Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 199 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 17-Jul-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 18-Jul-2004
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Sizing up autism in the amygdala and hippocampus

Cynthia Mills Schumann, Julia Hamstra, Beth L. Goodlin-Jones, Linda J. Lotspeich, Hower Kwon, Michael H. Buonocore, Cathy R. Lammers, Allan L. Reiss, and David G. Amaral

Impairments in social interactions as well as language and cognitive deficits define the spectrum of autism. This week, Schumann et al. reexamine a controversial aspect of the underlying neuropathology, the differences in the size of brain structures in male children and adolescents with autism and the related Asperger's syndrome. Using MRI, they measured the volume of the cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus.

Although the cortical size was unaffected, the hippocampus was slightly larger in autistic subjects than controls. Interestingly, the amygdala of children, but not adolescents, was larger with autism, regardless of retardation.

The comparison confirmed a 40% increase in the amygdala of normal children between age 7.5 and 18.5 that seems to occur prematurely in autism. Although our understanding of these changes is rudimentary, the role of the amygdala in social interactions provides an intriguing possible connection to autism.

One thing seems certain: when it comes to the amygdala, bigger is not necessarily better.

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