Autism Brains Reveal More Grey Matter

A new imaging technique has shown up increased grey matter in the areas of the brain that control social processing and learning by observation in autism patients.

In a study of male adolescents with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome and an IQ greater than 70, researchers at the Fay J Lindner Centre for Autism in New York used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which tracks the movement of water molecules in the brain.

Scientists studied mirror neurons, which are brain cells that are active when emotions and sensations are experienced and facilitate learning and empathising.

They found that the autistic youngsters had more grey matter in the brain regions which govern the mirror neuron system.

Speaking at the meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), Dr Manzar Ashtari, who led the study, said: “Our findings suggest that the inability of autistic children to relate to people and life situations in an ordinary way may be the result of an abnormally functioning mirror neuron system.”

“In the normal brain, larger amounts of grey matter are associated with higher IQs,” Dr. Ashtari said. “But in the autistic brain, increased grey matter does not correspond to IQ, because this grey matter is not functioning properly.”

“Impairments in these areas are the hallmark of autism spectrum disorders, and this finding may lead to greater understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of the core features of autism,” added study co-author Joel Bregman, medical director of the Fay J Lindner Centre for Autism.