Neuropathology of the anterior midcingulate cortex in young children with autism

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2014 Sep;73(9):891-902. doi: 10.1097/NEN.0000000000000108.


The anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in cognitive and affective functioning, is important in investigating disorders in which individuals exhibit impairments in higher-order functions. In this study, we examined the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) at the cellular level in patients with autism and in controls. We focused our analysis on layer V of the aMCC because it contains von Economo neurons, specialized cells thought to be involved in emotional expression and focused attention. Using a stereologic approach, we determined whether there were neuropathologic changes in von Economo neuron number, pyramidal neuron number, or pyramidal neuron size between diagnostic groups. When the groups were subdivided into young children and adolescents, pyramidal neuron and von Economo neuron numbers positively correlated with autism severity in young children, as measured by the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised. Young children with autism also had significantly smaller pyramidal neurons than their matched controls. Because the aMCC is involved in decision-making during uncertain situations, decreased pyramidal neuron size may reflect a potential reduction in the functional connectivity of the aMCC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Postmortem Changes
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult