Monday, August 14, 2006

Study: Boys with Autism Have Fewer Neurons in Brain's Amygdala

The red spots in the image at left shows the location of the amygdala in the temporal lobes of the human brain. Researchers at the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California, Davis, have found this part of the brain, which involves a person's emotion and memory, has fewer neurons in males with autism. The researchers say in this press release that it is the first time scientists have identified such a difference between the brains of people with autism and those without. More research is needed to figure out more about what this means about the ways that brains develop in people with autism.

The research was funded by the federal government through the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance for Autism Research, which is now part of the Autism Speaks advocacy group.

Research in brain development is a major theme in autism-related medical studies. This quote helps explain the context of this study:

"While we have known that autism is a developmental brain disorder, where, how and when the autistic brain develops abnormally has been a mystery,"” said Thomas R. Insel, a physician and director of the National Institute of Mental Health . "“This new finding is important because it demonstrates that the structure of the amygdala is abnormal in autism. Along with other findings on the abnormal function of the amygdala, research is beginning to narrow the search for the brain basis of autism."

The study, by David Amaral of the M.I.N.D. Institute and Cynthia Mills Schumann, who's now at University of California at San Diego, is in the July 19 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

The image comes from the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, posted on the web encyclopedia Wikipedia.

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