Changes in the developmental trajectories of striatum in autism

Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Aug 15;66(4):327-33. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.03.017. Epub 2009 May 7.


Background: Repetitive and stereotyped behavior has been associated with striatum in various neuropsychiatric disorders. However, striatal involvement has not yet been shown conclusively in autism. Issues include the use of neuroleptic medication and differences in mean age between samples, where conflicting results may reflect differences in developmental stage between samples. The objective was to examine brain development in a homogeneous sample of subjects with high-functioning autism.

Methods: Magnetic resonance measures of brain structure of 188 individuals (99 subjects with high-functioning autism and 89 typically developing, matched control subjects) aged between 6 years and 25 years were compared. Measurements included the volume of brain structures, including striatum, as well as voxel-based assessment of gray matter density.

Results: Developmental trajectories of the caudate nucleus, putamen, and nucleus accumbens differed between subjects with autism and control subjects. Results were not accounted for by overall changes in brain volume or neuroleptic medication. The development of the caudate nucleus differed from typical most, as its volume increased with age in autism, while it decreased for control subjects. Voxel-based analysis showed that changes in striatum localized to the head of the caudate nucleus. Overall, caudate nucleus volume was associated with repetitive behavior in autism.

Conclusions: We report changes in striatal development in autism, while caudate volume is associated with repetitive behaviors. This emphasizes the importance of striatum in the etiology of autism, in particular in the development of repetitive behavior that characterizes the disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging*
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Corpus Striatum / growth & development*
  • Corpus Striatum / pathology*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Stereotyped Behavior / physiology