Background: A number of studies have found brain enlargement in autism, but there is disagreement as to whether this enlargement is limited to early development or continues into adulthood. In this study, cortical gray and white tissue volumes were examined in a sample of adolescents and adults with autism who had demonstrated total brain enlargement in a previous magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study.
Methods: An automated tissue segmentation program was applied to structural MRI scans to obtain volumes of gray, white, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tissue on a sample of adolescent and adult males ages 13-29 with autism (n = 23) and controls (n = 15). Regional differences for brain lobes and brain hemispheres were also examined.
Results: Significant enlargement in gray matter volume was found for the individuals with autism, with a disproportionate increase in left-sided gray matter volume. Lobe volume enlargements were detected for frontal and temporal, but not parietal or occipital lobes, in the subjects with autism. Age and nonverbal IQ effects on tissue volume were also observed.
Conclusions: These findings give evidence for left-lateralized gray tissue enlargement in adolescents and adults with autism, and demonstrate a regional pattern of cortical lobe volumes underlying this effect.