Study: Autism likely begins during pregnancy

The AP reports that a small postmortem study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that autism begins in the latter part of pregnancy. The study “examined brains from children who died found abnormal patterns of cell growth in” children with autism.

These “clusters of disorganized brain cells were discovered in tissue samples from brain regions important for regulating social functioning, emotions and communication,” all areas that are problematic for youngsters with autism.

What’s more, “the abnormalities were found in 10 of 11 children with autism, but in only one of 11 children without the disease.”

Bloomberg News reports that the study’s “findings also suggested that the disruption of cell development in the brain probably occurred in the second and third trimesters … said” Eric Courchesne, PhD, director of the University of California at San Diego’s Autism Center of Excellence, “in a telephone interview.” Courchesne is one of the study’s senior authors.

U-T San Diego reports that finding signs of brain abnormalities in children with autism “is important because previous studies of adult brains may have missed childhood abnormalities, the study said.”

Children with autism have enlarged brains, but that “overgrowth disappears by adulthood.”

Thomas Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which sponsored the research, “said the study ‘highlights the critical need’ for autopsy brain tissue to gain a better understanding of autism.”

It may turn out that autism is caused by an aberrant pattern of genetic activity that can be prevented, Menon said.

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