MSU Study Indicates Link Between Autism, Larger Brain Ventricles

MSU Study Indicates Link Between Autism, Larger Brain Ventricles

February 25, 2013/Detroit News


By Kim Kozlowski


Low birth weight babies with a certain brain abnormality are seven times more likely to develop autism, according to research announced Monday by Michigan State University.

The findings, culled from a 25-year study of low birth weight infants who received cranial ultrasounds, showed the heightened autism risk occurred among babies with enlarged ventricles — the brain cavities that store spinal fluid — and may indicate the loss of a type of brain tissue known as white matter.

The study offers evidence that autism, in some cases, is starting early in life, in spite of controversies that vaccines or the environment lead to the disorder, said Tammy Movsas, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at MSU and lead author of the study.

"The numbers are too small to say clinically we should be screening every low birth weight baby for autism," Movsas said. "But it's suggesting we are seeing these brain changes early on, and this might be providing us with clues what we need to focus in on."

The research, published online Feb. 11 in the Journal of Pediatrics, is the result of a study in New Jersey of 1,105 low birth weight infants that began in the 1980s. Each was screened with an ultrasound within the first week of life. The ultrasound was taken so scientists could look for brain abnormalities in infancy and disorders that show up later in life.

The subjects were screened again at age 16.

A more comprehensive screening of a portion of the participants was conducted again at age 21. Of the 189 screened, 12 had the ventricle enlargements in the brain. Of those 12, four had autism.

Nigel Paneth, an MSU epidemiologist and co-author, said further research is needed to understand why the loss of white matter interferes with the neurology of the brain that can lead to autism.

"This is an important clue to the underlying brain issues in autism." Paneth said in a statement.

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