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Autistic Children May Have Too Many Brain Cells
Date:11/9/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- The brains of autistic children have far more neurons in the prefrontal cortex than the brains of kids without autism, finds a new study that could advance research into the disorder.

"For the first time, we have the potential to understand why autism gets started," said study author Eric Courchesne, a professor of neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and director of the Autism Center of Excellence.

"Creating brains cells and the correct number of brain cells is absolutely fundamental to building the brain," said Courchesne. "If there is an excess number of neurons, there must be a negative consequence to that in the way the brain gets wired or organized."

In this small, preliminary study, the researchers examined postmortem brain tissue from seven boys with autism and six boys without autism who were aged 2 to 16 when they died.

The autistic children had on average 67 percent more neurons -- a type of brain cell and a fundamental building block of the nervous system -- than boys without autism of a similar age.

Specifically, they found autistic children had 79 percent more neurons in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and 29 percent more in the mesial prefrontal cortex than other kids.

The prefrontal cortex is key to complex thoughts and behaviors, including language, social behavior and decision-making. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is closely linked with "executive function," including planning, reasoning and "very high level cognition," said Lizabeth Romanski, an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who was not involved with the research. The mesial prefrontal cortex is thought to be important to social and other behavior and emotions.

While typically developing kids had about 1.16 billion neurons in the pref
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