There has been little exploration of major biologic regulators of cerebral development in autism. We measured insulin-like growth factors (IGF) -1 and -2 from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) by radio immunoassay in 25 children with autism (median age 5y 5mo; range 1y 11mo-15y 10mo; 20 males, 5 females), and in 16 age-matched comparison children without disability (median age 7y 4mo; range 1y 1mo-15y 2mo; eight males, eight females). IGF-1 and -2 concentrations were further correlated with age of patients and head size. CSF IGF-1 concentration was significantly lower in patients with autism than in the comparison group. The CSF concentrations of children with autism under 5 years of age were significantly lower than their age-matched comparisons. The head circumferences correlated with CSF IGF-1 in children with autism but no such correlation was found in the comparison group. There was no difference between the two groups in CSF IGF-2 concentrations. No patients with autism had macrocephaly. We conclude that low concentrations of CSF IGF-1 at an early age might be linked with the pathogenesis in autism because IGF-1 is important for the survival of Purkinje cells of the cerebellum. The head growth might be explained by the actions of IGF-1 and -2 reflected in CSF concentrations.