Extra Brain Cells may be a Key Factor for Autism

Children with autism appear to have too many cells in a key area of the brain needed for communication and emotional development, helping to explain why young children with autism often develop brains that are larger than normal  according to new research.  The study suggests the condition starts in the womb because brain cells in this area known as the prefrontal cortex typically develop during the second trimester of pregnancy.

“We found a really remarkable 67 percent increase in the total number of brain cells in the prefrontal cortex,” said Dr. Eric Courchesne of the University of California San Diego Autism Center of Excellence, whose study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“This isn’t just a simple increase in neurons. It means a huge increase in potential connections and, therefore, a potential for miswiring which would lead to abnormal function,” Courchesne said.

Other recent studies have pointed to environmental factors, possibly in the womb, as a potential trigger.

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