Using computerized imaging, researchers have observed minicolumnar abnormalities in the frontal and temporal lobes of autistic patients. The study by scientists at the Medical College of Georgia, the University of South Carolina, and the Downtown VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, is reported in the current issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Autism is a severe and pervasive developmental disturbance of childhood. The disorder is characterized by disturbances in social interactions and communication, as well as stereotyped patterns of interests, activities and behaviors.
A minicolumn is a basic organizational unit of brain cells and connective wiring allowing an individual to take in information, process it, and respond. Thus, any changes in size, shape or location of the minicolumn will have an effect on the processing capacity of the brain. For the study, scientists examined the brain tissue of nine autistic patients and nine controls using five measures: columnar width, peripheral neuropil space, mean interneuronal distance, compactness, and gray level index.
According to study author Manuel F. Casanova, MD, a neurologist and neuropathologist at the Downtown VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, the examinations revealed that the cell minicolumns of autistic patients are significantly smaller, but there are many more of them.
Evolution of the brain has kept minicolumn size essentially constant while increasing total cortical surface area, which in larger brains has resulted in more columns per brain and thus more processing units and increased complexity, Casanova said.