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Subtypes of autism more clearly defined

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Results from the largest brain study of preschoolers with autism show that 3-year-olds with regressive autism, not early onset autism, have larger brain than their healthy peers.

“The finding that boys with regressive autism show a different form of neuropathology than boys with early onset autism is novel,” said Christine Wu Nordahl, researcher at UC Davis MIND Institute and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Moreover, when we evaluated girls with autism separately from boys, we found that no girls – regardless of whether they had early onset or regressive autism—had abnormal brain growth.”

“This adds to the growing evidence that there are multiple biological subtypes of autism, with different neurobiological underpinnings,” said David Amaral, Beneto Foundation Chair, MIND Institute Research Director and University of California Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder which causes deficits in language and social interaction and communication. The condition affects about 10% of youth, boys more than girls by a rate of 4 to 1.

The study found that brain enlargement was consistently observed only in one subset of children: those diagnosed with regressive autism. Total brain volume was 6% larger than typically developing peers. Girls did not show abnormal brain growth at all. It may be that rapid brain growth is a risk factor for regression.

“It’s not clear how many different types of autism will be identified,”Amaral said. “The purpose of defining different types of autism is to more effectively study the cause of each type and eventually determine effective preventative measures and better, individualized treatments.”

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, ScienceDaily

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