Basal ganglia morphometry and repetitive behavior in young children with autism spectrum disorder

Autism Res. 2011 Jun;4(3):212-20. doi: 10.1002/aur.193. Epub 2011 Apr 7.


We investigated repetitive and stereotyped behavior (RSB) and its relationship to morphometric measures of the basal ganglia and thalami in 3- to 4-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 77) and developmental delay without autism (DD; n = 34). Children were assessed through clinical evaluation and parent report using RSB-specific scales extracted from the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), the Autism Diagnostic Interview, and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist. A subset of children with ASD (n = 45), DD (n = 14), and a group of children with typical development (TD; n = 25) were also assessed by magnetic resonance imaging. Children with ASD demonstrated elevated RSB across all measures compared to children with DD. Enlargement of the left and right striatum, more specifically the left and right putamen, and left caudate, was observed in the ASD compared to the TD group. However, nuclei were not significantly enlarged after controlling for cerebral volume. The DD group, in comparison to the ASD group, demonstrated smaller thalami and basal ganglia regions even when scaled for cerebral volume, with the exception of the left striatum, left putamen, and right putamen. Elevated RSB, as measured by the ADOS, was associated with decreased volumes in several brain regions: left thalamus, right globus pallidus, left and right putamen, right striatum and a trend for left globus pallidus and left striatum within the ASD group. These results confirm earlier reports that RSB is common early in the clinical course of ASD and, furthermore, demonstrate that such behaviors may be associated with decreased volumes of the basal ganglia and thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Caudate Nucleus / physiology
  • Checklist
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / diagnosis
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / pathology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Corpus Striatum / pathology
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Female
  • Globus Pallidus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Putamen / pathology
  • Reference Values
  • Stereotyped Behavior / physiology*
  • Thalamus / pathology