Boca Raton, FL, December 8, 2007 Brain overgrowth in the latter part of an infants first year may contribute to the onset of autistic characteristics, according to research presented today at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) annual meeting. These findings support concurrent research which has found brain overgrowth in autistic children as young as two years old.
Lead researcher Joseph Piven, M.D., Director of the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and an ACNP member, says that behavioral studies of infants at high risk for autism suggest that the onset of most behavioral symptoms which define the disorder, such as problems with and social interaction, also occur at about age one. One reason these findings are important is because early post-natal onset raises the possibility that there may be a window for early treatment and prevention that could be identified by future studies, Piven says.
Autism, a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by severe deficits in social interaction and communication, is associated with a restricted range of activities and interests, as well as stereotyped repetitive behaviors such as lining up toys in a certain way or requiring basic routines.
In normal brain development, neuronal connections are eliminated through a process called pruning. This process refines normal brain connections and increases the efficiency of remaining connections in the brain. Piven says one possibility is that there is less pruning in children with autism and therefore, their brains become larger than in children without autism.
Piven cautions that while the study seems to suggest a link between brain overgrowth and autism, there are many variants of autism among children, so the ways in which autistic children develop and are affected by brain growth can vary greatly.
Piven says he will continue to study brain develop
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American College of Neuropsychopharmacology