Study Links Autism To Too Many Neurons In the Brain

A recent preliminary study has indicated that autism may possibly be linked to people having too many neurons in a part of the brain that is responsible for cognitive development as well as social skills and communication. The same study also suggests that autism may also develop while the baby is still on the mother’s womb. The findings of the study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The small preliminary study involved researchers from the Autism Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego. They discovered that children with autism has an average of 67 percent prefrontal brain neurons as well as a larger than average brain weight as compared to children without autism.

Eric Courchesne, Ph.D. of the Autism Center of Excellence at the UCSD examined postmortem tissues coming from the prefrontal cortex of 13 male children aged 2 to 16 years old, 7 of whom had autism while 6 did not. The tissues were examined by expert anatomists who had no idea of the children’s diagnostic status.

The researchers found significant differences in the neuron counts in the PFC of autistic children as compared to those who did not suffer from the condition. On average, the autistic group showed a 67 percent higher neuron count as compared to the non-autistic group. The researchers also found that the autistic group has a larger than normal brain weight based on age by about 17.6 percent.

Although the study sample is considered small, it is the very first study to ever confirm on a quantitive test the theory that a pathological abundance of brain cells is present in the critical brain regions in children with autism.

“Our sample of autistic children was not large enough to statistically examine brain-behavior relationships. Future studies with many more cases of autistic children might reveal important relationships between neuron counts and symptom severity or intellectual ability,” the authors of the said study wrote.

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals (2011, November 8). Abnormal number of neurons in brains of children with autism, preliminary study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 10, 2011, from


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