Abnormal regional cerebral blood flow in childhood autism

Brain. 2000 Sep;123 ( Pt 9):1838-44. doi: 10.1093/brain/123.9.1838.

Abstract

Neuroimaging studies of autism have shown abnormalities in the limbic system and cerebellar circuits and additional sites. These findings are not, however, specific or consistent enough to build up a coherent theory of the origin and nature of the brain abnormality in autistic patients. Twenty-three children with infantile autism and 26 non-autistic controls matched for IQ and age were examined using brain-perfusion single photon emission computed tomography with technetium-99m ethyl cysteinate dimer. In autistic subjects, we assessed the relationship between regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) and symptom profiles. Images were anatomically normalized, and voxel-by-voxel analyses were performed. Decreases in rCBF in autistic patients compared with the control group were identified in the bilateral insula, superior temporal gyri and left prefrontal cortices. Analysis of the correlations between syndrome scores and rCBF revealed that each syndrome was associated with a specific pattern of perfusion in the limbic system and the medial prefrontal cortex. The results confirmed the associations of (i) impairments in communication and social interaction that are thought to be related to deficits in the theory of mind (ToM) with altered perfusion in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus, and (ii) the obsessive desire for sameness with altered perfusion in the right medial temporal lobe. The perfusion abnormalities seem to be related to the cognitive dysfunction observed in autism, such as deficits in ToM, abnormal responses to sensory stimuli, and the obsessive desire for sameness. The perfusion patterns suggest possible locations of abnormalities of brain function underlying abnormal behaviour patterns in autistic individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon