Identifican el mecanismo por el que el autismo es más frecuente en hombres

Desde hace tiempo se sabe que el sexo de un individuo influye de algún modo en la probabilidad de que sufra ciertas enfermedades. 

Así, la depresión y la ansiedad suelen darse más en las mujeres, mientras que los hombres son más proclives a experimentar determinados desórdenes del neurodesarrollo, como los trastornos por déficit de atención con hiperactividad o el autismo

También son más sensibles al estrés gestacional y a otras condiciones a las que pueden estar expuestos antes del nacimiento, como las infecciones maternas.

De hecho, un estudio publicado en 2017 en la revista JAMA Psychiatry apuntaba que por cada cuatro varones que padecen trastornos del espectro autista (TEA), se ve afectada una mujer.

En esa ocasión, los investigadores de la Universidad Johann Wolfgang Goethe que firmaron el trabajo sugerían que en ello podría jugar un papel el grosor de la corteza cerebral masculina, más fina que la de ellas.

No es la primera vez que trata de buscarse una relación neuroanatómica para explicar tal disparidad en los casos de TEA, pero en un ensayo publicado en julio de 2018 que recoge Nature Communications, un equipo de expertos de los departamentos de Farmacología de la Universidad de Maryland y de Ciencias Biomédicas de la de Pensilvania se indica que las causas parecen más bien moleculares, y que habría que buscarlas en la placenta, un órgano que puede condicionar de diversas formas la futura salud del bebé.

Un gen y una proteína claves

En un estudio con roedores, estos científicos observaron que los altos niveles en ella de una proteína, denominada H3K27me3, parecen aumentar la resiliencia de las hembras hacia el mencionado estrés gestacional.

Asimismo, el gen OGT, que reside en el cromosoma X –las mujeres poseen dos y los hombres uno–, proporciona una cierta protección a los fetos femeninos ante algunas perturbaciones en el ambiente intrauterino.

“Esta conexión podría ayudarnos a explicar las considerables diferencias en el neurodesarrollo que se da en los humanos de ambos sexos”, indica Tracy L. Bale, una de las neurocientíficas que ha participado en esta iniciativa.

“En la placenta, el gen OGT y el péptido H3K27me3 son fundamentales en la codificación de numerosas proteínas durante el embarazo, lo que, con el tiempo, puede tener muy distintos efectos”, añade.

En estudios previos, Bale y sus colaboradores detectaron que, al menos en ratones, el estrés del padre puede alterar su esperma y, con ello, afectar al desarrollo cerebral de su descendencia, que tendría más probabilidades de experimentar algunos desórdenes del neurodesarrollo.

Los progenitores estresados también tenían crías que ofrecían una menor respuesta hormonal al estrés, un fenómeno que se ha relacionado con la aparición de algunas condiciones neuropsiquiátricas, como el trastorno por estrés postraumático.

Referencia: Placental H3K27me3 establishes female resilience to prenatal insults. Tracy L. Bale et al. Nature communications. 

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