Background: In this study, specific consideration is given to a role for the thalamus in autism.
Methods: A volumetric analysis of the thalamus was conducted using magnetic resonance imaging, based on segmentation of continuous 1.2 mm(3) coronal images. The sample consisted of 12 high-functioning individuals with autism, mean age of 21.0 years (SD = 10.4) and mean IQ of 106.4 (SD = 18.3). Normal control subjects were selected to match this group; the mean age was 18.1 years (SD = 6.3); mean IQ was 108.8 (SD = 15.6).
Results: Unadjusted mean thalamic volume was not significantly different; however, there were significant differences in the relationship between thalamic volume and total brain volume (TBV). The correlation was strong and positive in the control group but statistically nonsignificant in the autism group. Group differences were found when adjustments were made for TBV, achieved by grouping subjects' measurements on this variable using a split median procedure. Mean thalamic volume was significantly reduced in the autism group relative to normal control subjects, specifically within the high TBV group.
Conclusion: The increase in thalamic volume with increase in TBV was not seen in autism, suggesting underdeveloped connections between cortical and subcortical regions and indicating a need to examine this structure further.