As reported by the BBC from an article in Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, scientists at the Medical College of Georgia, and the University of South Carolina (with Downtown Researchers) have identified structural differences in the brain of people with autism that may explain why they have problems communicating and socialising.
The scientists used computerised imaging techniques to pinpoint differences in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. The scientists examined brain tissue from nine autistic patients and nine people who did not have the condition.
They focused on structures within the brain known as cell minicolumns which play an important role in the way the brain takes in information and responds to it. The cell minicolumns of autistic patients were found to be significantly smaller, but there were many more of them.
The increased amount of cell minicolumns in autistic people could mean that they are constantly in a state of overarousal. Autistics' poor communication skills could be an attempt to diminish this arousal.
It is thought that an early injury might somehow interfere with the proper development or wiring of other brain regions resulting in the behavioural symptoms of autism.
If the ability for complex communication is due to the subtle wiring of the millions of minicolumns found throughout the brain then any early impairments in development could explain the difficulties faced by people with autism spectrum disorders.
A spokesperson for the UK National Autistic Society said the new research was consistent with this theory. Certainly the study reported is consistent with what is known about the difficulties people with autism spectrum disorders face in processing information."
For further information visit the BBC site www.bbc.co.uk (article of 12 february 2002 in health section) for further articles.
The American Academy of Neurology site is www.aan.com to read the full report.