Cortical Layers Disrupted in Brain Development in Autism

UC San Diego continues to be noted for its autism research with the finding that altered activity during the middle and end of pregnancy is linked to the development of autism.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported by Scientific American.

The area UCSD researchers homed in on is just a quarter of an inch in size. Ten of the autistic children showed the problem in the prefrontal cortex, which dictates communication and social skills.

The outer layer of babies’ brains form six layers at those stages of pregnancy, but the UCSD researchers found that in autistic children, that development is flawed, causing problems in the areas of the brain that control social skills and language.

Scientific American called the areas “messy patches,” which also could be found at random in the brain in the frontal and temporal cortices.

“The finding that these defects occur in patches rather than across the entirety of cortex gives hope as well as insight about the nature of autism,” said Courchesne, in a March news release.

The findings were based on a study of 22 children who died between the ages of 2 to 15, half with autism and half without the disorder. The gene research was focused on brain samples taken from the prefrontal cortex, occipital cortex and the temporal cortex.

Researchers Eric Courchesne, a professor of neurosciences and director, and Rich Stoner, both of the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence and Ed S. Lein of the Allen Institute, analyzed 25 genes in the brain tissue.

UCSD researchers also have studied neurons in autistic children. They hope their work points to the second and third trimesters as a crucial time in the development of autism that may lead to preventative measures to prevent the disorder.