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Autism Might Begin as Early as Pregnancy

Update Date: Mar 27, 2014 11:17 AM EDT

In order to treat any disease more effectively, understanding how the disease manifests is important. In a new study, researchers examined the brains of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). They concluded that new evidence suggests that ASD might begin as early as pregnancy.

ASD encompasses a range of developmental disorders characterized by difficulties with social communication and interaction. The disorder's symptoms can be anywhere from mild to severe, and tend to show during the first few years of life. The effectiveness of treatments for ASD varies greatly for each individual case and in order to treat the condition better, researchers have been trying to uncover how the disease starts.

In this study, the research team from the University of California, San Diego and the Allen Institute for Brain Science, analyzed the brain tissues from 22 children between the ages of two and 15 that had passed away. 11 of the children had ASD whereas the remaining 11 did not. The researchers used genetic markers in order to examine the outermost region of the brain.

The researchers discovered that children with autism have abnormalities that were uncommon in the brains of children without the disability. Roughly 90 percent of autistic children and 10 percent of non-autistic children had these spotty changes in regions of the brain responsible for social and emotional communication, and language development. The team also reported that these changes appeared to have occurred before the children were born. Since the changes were in the form of patches, the researchers believe that early treatment that could rewire the brain and improve ASD symptoms.

"The finding that these defects occur in patches rather than across the entirety of cortex gives hope as well as insight about the nature of autism," said Professor Eric Courchesne, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Diego reported by BBC News.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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