Brain structure may explain nature of autism
Differences in brain structure may explain the problems and strengths experienced by people with autism, a study led by University of Louisville neuroscientist Manuel Casanova, M.D., has found.
The study, published in June in Acta Neuropathologica (Germany), shows that the differences seem to lead to a lack of cooperation and coordination among brain cells.
Autistic people sometimes excel at mathematics and visual discrimination because their brains are structured to make short, local connections, the finding suggests.
However, they can have trouble speaking and recognizing faces because their brains lack the structure to make integrated connections over longer distances.
Casanova's team and four other laboratories in New York, the Netherlands and Germany examined tissue samples from autistic and normal brains.
The samples were not identified to researchers to avoid any possible bias.
The researchers found that tiny strands of connected tissue that carry messages in the brain are narrower and packed more densely in the brains of people with autism.
They also found that some of the densely packed cells are smaller and limit the brain's ability to transmit messages over longer distances within the nervous system.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that are caused by unusual brain development. People with ASDs tend to have problems with social and communication skills.
Many people with ASDs also have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to different sensations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as 1 in 166 children in the United States have an ASD.