Brain structures grow differently in boys, men with autism

By Rebecca Sohn for spectrum news

Autistic boys and men show notable differences in brain development, according to magnetic resonance imaging scans taken over a 16-year period.

The results, published in NeuroImage in April, build on an eight-year study of some of the same people and add two more time points to the previous three.

“With the addition of these time points, we now see that these non-uniform regional volumetric differences really persist into very late childhood,” says co-lead investigator Brandon Zielinski, associate professor of pediatrics and of neurology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

He and his colleagues scanned the brains of 105 autistic and 125 non-autistic boys and men at up to five time points from 2003 to 2019. Participants ranged in age from 6 to 45 years at the first scan. Although the researchers recruited some new participants over the course of the study, 73 percent of the original autistic participants and 50 percent of controls underwent all five scans.

Autistic boys tended to have more gray matter early in childhood but a similar volume to that of controls by age 12, the researchers found. Conversely, their ventricles, which produce and transport cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain, started out the same size as controls but tended to expand by age 21. The corpus callosum, a band of nerve fibers that connects the brain’s two hemispheres, tended to grow more slowly and ended up smaller than that of controls by age 36.

Many of the findings replicate previous research, says Eric Courchesne, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego.

“But they’ve done it a different way. They’ve improved it,” he says. “And that shows the process of science.”

Read more here.

ASD Reading is our sister program designed specifically for children on the Autism Spectrum. Sign up today for a free 30 day trial.