Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 29th 2014 Contents A28
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, March 29, 2014
A small study that examined the brains of chil-
dren who died found that certain abnormalities
were common in autistic children but not in kids
without the disorder.
The research bolsters evidence that something
before birth might cause autism, at least in some
The clusters of disorganised brain cells were dis-
covered in tissue samples from brain regions impor-
tant for regulating social functioning, emotions and
communication---which can all be troublesome for
children with autism.
The structural defects were found in ten of 11
children with autism, but in only one of 11 children
without the disease. The children s brains were
donated to science after death; causes of death
included drowning, accidents, asthma and heart
The authors said the defects, detected with sophis-
ticated lab tests, likely occurred during the second
or third trimesters of pregnancy.
"Because this points to the biological onset in
prenatal life, it calls sharply into question other
popular notions about autism," including the sci-
entifically debunked theory that childhood vaccines
might be involved, said lead author Eric Courchesne,
an autism researcher at the University of California,
Experts not involved in the latest study called
the results preliminary and said larger studies are
needed to determine if the defects are truly common
in autism or even in people without the disorder.
What causes defects isn t known, Courchesne said,
adding, "It could be gene mutations and environ-
mental factors together."
Scientists generally believe that genetics is one
of the factors contributing to autism. Previous
research has suggested these factors might include
infections during pregnancy, pre-term birth, and
fathers older age at conception.
The study was published in yesterday s New Eng-
land Journal of Medicine.
Other scientists have suggested that autism may
be linked with abnormalities in the brain s frontal
region, and that for at least some children, problems
begin before birth, said Dr Janet Lainhart, an autism
researcher and psychiatry professor at the University
"But this research provides probably some of the
most elegant evidence for those two very important
biological themes," she said.
The study follows Courchesne-led research sug-
gesting that abnormal gene activity leads to an
excessive number of brain cells in the brain s pre-
frontal cortex, located behind the forehead. The
same region and adjacent areas of the brain were
implicated in the new study.
His studies suggest that in children later diagnosed
with autism, genetic networks that regulate prenatal
brain cell growth are faulty. Larger studies are needed
to determine how common the abnormalities are
and what might be the cause.
"These abnormalities are not trivial," Courchesne
said. "These are fundamental to developing a human
The new study involved children aged two to 15.
Most previous autism brain studies involved samples
taken from autopsies of adults.
Dr Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute
of Mental Health, said the authors used advanced
methods to examine cellular and molecular markers
in more detail than previous research. But he said
the study "highlights the critical need" for autopsy
brain tissue to gain a better understanding of autism.
"If there really is this disorganised cortical archi-
tecture" in autism, it would develop before birth,
said Insel. His government agency helped pay for
About one in 88 children in the US have one of
the autistic spectrum disorders, which include classic
autism and a mild form, Asperger syndrome.
Researchers from the Allen Institute for Brain
Science in Seattle also participated in the study. In
addition to the National Institute of Mental Health,
grants from the Allen institute, private foundations
and the advocacy group Autism Speaks helped pay
for the research. (AP)
Autism may be tied to flawed
prenatal brain growth
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
A boy with autism
makes a bead
necklace on March 2,
2012, in Isle d'Abeau,
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