Autism begins in pregnancy with subtle disruption of the brain's cortex, according to a study led by UC San Diego researchers. Moreover, it identifies a mechanism of abnormal gene activity explaining how the disruption causes autism.
If the study is confirmed, a physical cause will at last have been identified for autism, a developmental disorder whose origins are frustratingly vague. And a cause will give scientists a target for therapies and prevention. And further studies may find other brain abnormalities that have eluded discovery.
The study was published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Rich Stoner, Maggie L. Chow, and Maureen P. Boyle, all of UCSD, were first authors. Eric Courchesne of UCSD and Ed Lein of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle were senior authors.
...The autopsy rate has decreased substantially in recent decades.
Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said the authors used advanced methods to examine cellular and molecular markers in more detail than previous research. But he said the study “highlights the critical need” for autopsy brain tissue to gain a better understanding of autism.