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Novel imaging technique shows gray matter increase in brains of autistic children
Date:11/28/2007

CHICAGO Using a novel imaging technique to study autistic children, researchers have found increased gray matter in the brain areas that govern social processing and learning by observation. Results of the study conducted at the Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Bethpage, N.Y., were presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Our findings suggest that the inability of autistic children to relate to people and life situations in an ordinary way may be the result of an abnormally functioning mirror neuron system, said lead author Manzar Ashtari, Ph.D., from the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.

Mirror neurons are brain cells that are active both when an individual is performing an action and experiencing an emotion or sensation, and when that individual witnesses the same actions, emotions and sensations in others. First observed in the macaque monkey, researchers have found evidence of a similar system in humans that facilitates such functions as learning by seeing as well as doing, along with empathizing and understanding the intentions of others. Dr. Ashtaris study found the autistic children had increased gray matter in brain regions of the parietal lobes implicated in the mirror neuron system.

The study included 13 male patients diagnosed with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome and an IQ greater than 70 and 12 healthy control adolescents. Average age of the participants was about 11 years. Each of the patients underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a technique that tracks the movement of water molecules in the brain.

DTI is traditionally used to study the brains white matter, as well as the brain fibers. However, Dr. Ashtaris team applied it to the assessment of gray matter by employing apparent diffusion coefficient based morphometry (ABM), a new method that highlights brain regions with potentia
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Contact: Linda Brooks
lbrooks@rsna.org
630-590-7762
Radiological Society of North America
Source:Eurekalert

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