Autism May Develop Before Birth

A recent study has shown that Autism may begin before a child is even born. A detailed and thorough study of the brain was conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, in conjunction with the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.

Research was conducted on the brain tissue of several children who passed away at an early age, due to accidents, asthma, and drowning. Differences on the brains of children with Autism were seen immediately, both in the physical structure and at the genetic level. Clusters of disorganized brain cells were found in tissue samples of regions of the brain that regulate social ability, emotion and communication. Researchers state that the clusters are defects that most likely form during the second or third trimester of the mother’s pregnancy.

The clusters are buried deep into the brain, and not only are they in mass quantity, but the cells are not developed properly. “Brain cells are there, but they have not changed into the kind that they are supposed to be. It’s a failure of early formation”, states Eric Courchesne, Autism researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

Scientists have been working for many years to discover what causes Autism disorders, and although many more studies need to be done, an increasing number are agreeing that the origins of the disorder begin before birth. Previous research suggests gene mutations in combination with environmental factors. Genetics play a major role (for example, if one twin has an Autism spectrum disorder, the other is most likely to have one, as well). Other possible influences are potential infections during pregnancy, or a significantly premature birth.

This study follows previous research by Courchesne, who suggests that abnormal gene activity leads to an excessive number of brain cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is located right behind the forehead. The same region of the brain was implicated in this new study. “These abnormalities are not trivial”, Courchesne states, “[and they] are fundamental to developing a human brain”.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be presenting significant medical research, as well as discussing recent scientific advances, in NYC on July 1st. Dr. Martha Herbert, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, will be one of the speakers regarding the scientific evaluations of the Autistic brain. To hear Dr. Herbert speak, please select tickets here.

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