Brain-region-specific alterations of the trajectories of neuronal volume growth throughout the lifespan in autism

Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2014 Mar 10:2:28. doi: 10.1186/2051-5960-2-28.


Several morphometric studies have revealed smaller than normal neurons in the neocortex of autistic subjects. To test the hypothesis that abnormal neuronal growth is a marker of an autism-associated global encephalopathy, neuronal volumes were estimated in 16 brain regions, including various subcortical structures, Ammon's horn, archicortex, cerebellum, and brainstem in 14 brains from individuals with autism 4 to 60 years of age and 14 age-matched control brains. This stereological study showed a significantly smaller volume of neuronal soma in 14 of 16 regions in the 4- to 8-year-old autistic brains than in the controls. Arbitrary classification revealed a very severe neuronal volume deficit in 14.3% of significantly altered structures, severe in 50%, moderate in 21.4%, and mild in 14.3% structures. This pattern suggests desynchronized neuronal growth in the interacting neuronal networks involved in the autistic phenotype. The comparative study of the autistic and control subject brains revealed that the number of structures with a significant volume deficit decreased from 14 in the 4- to 8-year-old autistic subjects to 4 in the 36- to 60-year-old. Neuronal volumes in 75% of the structures examined in the older adults with autism are comparable to neuronal volume in age-matched controls. This pattern suggests defects of neuronal growth in early childhood and delayed up-regulation of neuronal growth during adolescence and adulthood reducing neuron soma volume deficit in majority of examined regions. However, significant correction of neuron size but limited clinical improvements suggests that delayed correction does not restore functional deficits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Postmortem Changes
  • Young Adult