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Recent Neurobiological Findings in Autism

  • Luke Y. Tsai

Abstract

Neurobiological studies of autism have found that many autistic individuals suffer from organic brain disorders, ranging from 30 to 100%, depending on whether the children were selected from psychiatric or pediatric-neurologic cohorts (Fish & Ritvo, 1979). Neurological abnormalities including hypotonia or hypertonia, disturbance of body schema, clumsiness, choreiform movements, pathological reflexes, myoclonic jerking, drooling, abnormal posture and gait, dystonic posturing of hands and fmgers, tremor, ankle clonus, emotional facial paralysis, and strabismus have been reported in 30 to 75% of several series of autistic patients (reviewed by Tsai, 1987a). There are also studies that show autistic children exhibiting high incidence of congenital minor physical anomalies (Campbell et al., 1978). Furthermore, a wide variety of established neurologic disorders have been reported in some cases of autism, including cerebral palsy, maternal rubella, toxoplasmosis, tuberous sclerosis, cytomegalovirus infection, demyelinating disease, lead encephalopathy, meningitis, encephalitis, severe brain hemorrhage, phenylketonuria, and many types of epilepsy (reviewed by Omitz, 1983). Based on these fmdings, it is now well accepted that autism results from dysfunction in certain parts of the central nervous system (CNS) that affects language, cognitive and intellectual development, and the ability to relate. The findings also suggest that autism may be the final common pathway of a diverse range of organic brain conditions. It has become widely recognized that there is heterogeneity within autistic syndrome. This is particularly true when the subgroups are divided based on neurobiological measures (e.g. hyperserotonemic autism versus hyposerotonemic autism) or disease entitites (e.g. fragile-X autism versus non-fragile-X autism). The number of subgroups will continue to increase when our examination methods and diagnostic classifications increase in sophistication. The proliferation of subgroups should be viewed positively because it allows us to identify truly homogeneous subgroups of autistic children with a defined disease entity or brain condition. It may allow us to obtain important clues about the etiology of autism. The list of empirical studies of brain conditions which are or may be associated with autism is quite extensive. Within the limits of this presentation, the present paper reviews mainly those studies published since 1980 when the DSM-III became a widely used diagnostic system. It focuses primarily on findings obtained from studies of pre-, peri-, and neonatal complications, neurochemical studies, neuropathological studies, studies based on brain imaging, and neurophysiological studies. Recent findings of another important empirical research, genetic implications, will be described in another chapter (by Hagerman).

Keywords

Migration Inhibition Factor Developmental Disorder Autistic Child Auditory Brainstem Response Autistic Patient 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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  • Luke Y. Tsai

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