Fundamental structural differences discovered in brains of autistic individuals

Autistic individuals have a fundamental structural difference in the alignment and wiring of their brain cells, a difference that explains these individuals' proclivity to live in their own world, according to researchers.

"The fundamental structure by which they think and process information is different," said Dr. Manuel F. Casanova, neurologist and neuropathologist at the Medical College of Georgia and lead author on research findings published in the Feb. 12 issue of Neurology. The structural difference they have found would result in too much communication, too little inhibition and a tendency to shut out much of the world around them, the researchers said.

Dr. Casanova's research team members examined the brain tissue of nine autistic people with a mean age of 12 and found to their surprise that not only do they have smaller minicolumns a basic organizational unit of 80 to100 brain cells and their connective wiring they have more of them. The team reproduced its findings using a different method of microscopic analysis before submitting them for publication.

"We believe that we have uncovered a major source of pathology that has been untouched before because no one looked at minicolumns," Dr. Casanova said. "I pray we are correct because this is standing on the verge of something that could be very important to many people."

The team previously published studies indicating that microscopic differences in the minicolumns of man and non-human primates help explain man's capacity for complex communication. They also postulated that differences in the minicolumns might hold clues to conditions such as autism and schizophrenia in which communication is dramatically impacted. "Intelligence is not the property of single cells, it's in the circuitry," Dr. Casanova said, referring to the minicolumns where cells take in information, process it and respond.

Despite the general observation that autistic individuals tend to have unusua

Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia

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