Abnormalities in the brains of autistic children can be traced back to the development of neurons in utero, according to a new study published in the March 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (stoner R, NEngl JMed 2014; 370:1209-1219).
In the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)-funded study, researchers looked at postmortem brains of children with autism and those without. They took tissue samples from the cortexes of these children and then divided each sample into thin layers to analyze differences between autistic brains and those of neurotypical children.
Using a process of gene analysis called in situ hybridization, researchers were able to label differences in the autistic cortexes that spanned multiple layers of tissue. The researchers called these regions of abnormality “patches” and found them throughout the frontal cortexes of nearly every autistic brain they studied.
These findings suggest that there are clear differences in the development of the architecture of the brain during the prenatal period in children with autism. The patches were found only in the frontal and temporal regions of the brains. These are the areas that govern emotions and social and communication functions, areas that autistic children have particular difficulties with. A video explaining the study can be seen on YouTube at http://bit.ly/1m8LFvE