An Investigation of the Female-Specific Behavioral Deficits Present in Autism, Kennedy Miller UG '21 (2312533)
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by two core diagnostic criteria: socio-communicative deficits and repetitive behaviors. Despite ASD being relatively common (1:59), women with ASD are severely underdiagnosed. This is thought to occur for two reasons. First, they don't engage in repetitive behaviors as frequently as males with ASD, so they fail to meet the second diagnostic criteria. Second, they 'mask' their social deficits by mimicking the social behaviors of their peers, thus hiding their social challenges. Here, we use a mouse model of ASD to explore the behavioral deficits specific to females presenting ASD. We created a novel unstructured assay that observed where mice chose to spend their time when presented with numerous social and non-social items. Our results revealed that female mice-expressing ASD-like behaviors exhibit higher anxiety-like behaviors and choose to interact less with conspecifics when given the opportunity to engage with non-social objects. This research suggests that anxiety could serve as a new diagnostic criteria for ASD. This is an important finding, as revising the diagnostic criteria to include behavioral deficits specific to females with ASD has the potential to decrease the underdiagnosis of women with ASD.