Children with autism appear to have bigger brains with more neurons than normal for their age, a small preliminary study affirmed.
Postmortem examinations of seven boys with autism showed 67% more neurons in the prefrontal cortex (1.94 billion), which controls social and emotional development as well as communication, compared with six controls (1.16 billion, P=0.002), Eric Courchesne, PhD, of the University of California San Diego, and colleagues found.
Autistic brains also weighed 17.6% above normal for age (P=0.001), the group reported in the Nov. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Neuron counts in the autistic children should have been accompanied by brain weights of 29.4% versus the observed 17.6% enlargement, they said. "Thus, the size of the autistic brain, overlarge though it is, might actually underestimate the pathology of excess neuron numbers," the group explained.
Researchers have long documented abnormal enlargement of the brain during childhood that persists for about 20% of individuals with autism.
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