A research team from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Autism Research (CAR) and colleagues from a national collaboration have made another discovery about the development of the brain in babies and toddlers who go onto have autism. Bob Schultz, PhD, Director of CAR and his team, have contributed to each of these studies as a member site within the NIH-funded Infant Brain Imaging Study network.
The investigative team found
that some infants who go on to develop autism by age 2 have an abundance of
brain fluid- called cerebrospinal fluid - between the brain and the
skull in the first year of life.
The study was published in the
journal Biological Psychiatry and is among a trio of articles the
team has published in recent months pointing to very early brain changes- or biomarkers- in infancy that may signal the
development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
All three studies used brain
imaging and diagnostic testing to follow infants who had an older sibling with
an autism diagnosis. Having an older sibling with ASD places these infants at a
twenty-times-higher risk for developing the disorder themselves. The two other studies
found that the younger siblings who went on to develop autism by age two showed
more rapid brain
growth and differences
in the atypical patterns of neural
activity in the first year of life.
Significantly, the brain areas
pinpointed in each of these studies, are known to be involved with the
regulation of social behavior, a key component of ASD. Each of the three
biomarkers the study teams identified was able to predict who which babies would
go on to receive a diagnosis of autism at age 24 months, with overall accuracy
ranging from over 90% to about 70%.
"We've been working in
partnership with the families who volunteer to be a part of this work, and with
an incredible network of colleagues across the country, for the better part of
a decade in order to learn from younger siblings about changes in the brain
that might signal autism years before a behavioral diagnosis can be made,"
explained Schultz, who leads the IBIS research at CHOP. "With these latest
findings, we are getting very close to being able to confidently identify which
babies are likely to develop autism, and this will allow us to begin earlier
interventions that we hope will blunt the severity autism symptoms as the child
grows older. The discoveries also point to biological processes and mechanisms
that lead to autism, deepening our understanding of the origins and timing of
the emergence of autism.”
The researchers are
particularly encouraged by the most recent findings regarding excess brain
fluid, because it is the very first study of early markers of autism that has
been independently validated or replicated in two different studies.The
research team hopes more such successes will follow suit.
A longer article about these
findings was recently published on the Simons Foundation’s Spectrum