Excitation-inhibition (E:I) imbalance is theorized as an important pathophysiological mechanism in autism. Autism affects males more frequently than females and sex-related mechanisms (e.g., X-linked genes, androgen hormones) can influence E:I balance. This suggests that E:I imbalance may affect autism differently in males versus females. With a combination of in-silico modeling and in-vivo chemogenetic manipulations in mice, we first show that a time-series metric estimated from fMRI BOLD signal, the Hurst exponent (H), can be an index for underlying change in the synaptic E:I ratio. In autism we find that H is reduced, indicating increased excitation, in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) of autistic males but not females. Increasingly intact MPFC H is also associated with heightened ability to behaviorally camouflage social-communicative difficulties, but only in autistic females. This work suggests that H in BOLD can index synaptic E:I ratio and that E:I imbalance affects autistic males and females differently.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere55684
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2020


  • autism
  • excitation
  • fMRI
  • heterogeneity
  • human
  • human biology
  • inhibition
  • medicine
  • mouse
  • neuroscience
  • sex/gender


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