Is Autism Lurking in the Folds of the Human Brain?

By National Institute of Health [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists have long been baffled as to the precise causes of autism, pondering if it is genetic, environmental or something else entirely. Medical researchers at the Delegation Paris Michel-Ange have discovered a cerebral marker specific to autism that can be detected during magnetic resonance imaging. The cerebral marker is present as early as the age of two years old.

The Study:

This abnormality detected, lies in a less deep fold in the Broca’s area of the brain, a region that specializes in language and communication. Language and communication are the functions that are particularly impaired in those with autism. The discovery could help in earlier diagnosis and treatment of the condition in these individuals.
Earlier diagnosis has been made possible by the medical imaging processing skills of the Institute de Neuroscience de la Timon.

The autism spectrum covers a wide range of neuro-developmental disorders and they affect mainly social relationships and communication skills. These disorders are attributed to abnormal brain development. Recent neuroimaging findings have suggested abnormal cortical folds exist, but standard neuro-anatomical measurement techniques had failed at locating any specific markers of the disorder.

Researchers focused on a new geometrical marker called the “sulcal pit.” This is the deepest portion of each sulcus located in the cerebral cortex, from which all folds on the brain develop. The sulcus is put in place during a very early developmental stage and they adapt to comparisons from person to person.
Based on the findings of the magnetic resonance imaging studies, the team observed sulcal pits of 102 young boys between the ages of 2 and 10 years old. These boys were placed into three separate groups (those with autism, those with pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified and typically developing youngsters).

By comparing boys in these three groups, the team discovered in the Broca’s area the maximum depth of a sulcus was less among autistic children when compared with boys in the other two groups. The deeper the sulcal pits in a child, the more impaired they are in terms of language abilities.

The abnormality specifically related to autistic children may very well constitute as a biomarker for the disorder that may make it easier for doctor’s to make a diagnosis and come up with an effective treatment plan. Right now, autism can only be definitely diagnosed through observational methods and by physicians interviewing parents.


This study will also allow a discovery concerning brain development. While it used to be thought cortical folds were completely developed at birth, the scientists found that some folds (the most superficial) continued to grow deeper as a person ages and it is similar in both autistic and other youngsters. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms of action and to develop better diagnostic methods.


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