Researchers at UCLA have found a possible explanation for why autistic children act and think differently than their peers. For the first time, they've shown that the connections between brain regions that are important for language and social skills grow much more slowly in boys with autism than in non-autistic children.
Reporting in the current online edition of the journal Human Brain Mapping, senior author Jennifer G. Levitt, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA; first author Xua Hua, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher; and colleagues found aberrant growth rates in areas of the brain implicated in the social impairment, communication deficits and repetitive behaviors that characterize autism.
Autism is thought to affect one in 110 children in the U.S., and many experts believe the numbers are growing. Despite its prevalence, little is known about the disorder, and no cure has been discovered.
Normally, as children grow into teenagers, the brain undergoes major changes. This highly dynamic process depends on the creation of new connections, called white matter, and the elimination, or "pruning," of unused brain cells, called gray matter. As a result, our brains work out the ideal and most efficient ways to understand and respond to the world around us.
Although most children with autism are diagnosed before they are 3 years old, this new study suggests that delays in brain development continue into adolescence.
"Because the brain of a child with autism develops more slowly during this critical period of life, these children may have an especially difficult time struggling to establish personal identity, develop social interactions and refine emotional skills," Hua said. "This new knowledge may help to explain some of the symptoms of autism and could improve future treatment options."
The researchers used a type of brain-imaging scan call
|Contact: Mark Wheeler|
University of California - Los Angeles