Brain Changes Suggest Autism Starts In The Womb

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The symptoms of autism may not be obvious until a child is a toddler, but the disorder itself appears to begin well before birth.

Brain tissue taken from children who died and also happened to have autism revealed patches of disorganization in the cortex, a thin sheet of cells that's critical for learning and memory, researchers report in the New England Journal of Medicine. Tissue samples from children without autism didn't have those characteristic patches.

Organization of the cortex begins in the second trimester of pregnancy. "So something must have gone wrong at or before that time," says Eric Courchesne, an author of the paper and director of the Autism Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego.

The finding should bolster efforts to understand how genes control brain development and lead to autism. It also suggests that treatment should start early in childhood, when the brain is capable of rewiring to work around damaged areas.

The study grew out of research by Courchesne on development of the cortex in children with autism. In typical kids, the cortex is "like a layer cake," he says. "There are six layers, one on top of the other, and in each layer there are different types of brain cells."

Courchesne suspected that these layers might be altered in the brains of children with autism. So he and a team of researchers studied samples of cortex from 11 children with autism and an equal number of typical kids. The cortex came from areas known to be associated with the symptoms of autism.

In the brain tissue from typical children, the cortex had six distinct layers, each made up of a specific type of cell. But in the children with autism, "there are patches in which specific cells in specific layers seem to be missing," Courchesne says. So instead of distinct layers, there are disorganized collections of brain cells.

These patches of disorganized cortex would have different effects on the brain depending on where they occur and how many there are, Courchesne says. That could help explain why the symptoms of autism vary so much.

And finding that the damage isn't everywhere suggests how a child's brain might compensate by rewiring to avoid the trouble spots, Courchesne says. "That's one of our guesses about how it is that autistic children, with treatment, very commonly get better," he says.

Written By: Jon Hamilton
continue to source article at npr.org

28 COMMENTS

  1. “Oh, what do they know? All they have is research and evidence to look at. It’s so obviously vaccines”, will be the response from the denialists. Skeptics, of course, will want it reviewed for accuracy and only accept it as useful information if it proves to be.

    Sounds interesting.

    • In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

      “Oh, what do they know? All they have is research and evidence to look at. It’s so obviously vaccines”, will be the response from the denialists. Skeptics, of course, will want it reviewed for accuracy and only accept it as useful information if it proves to be.

      Sounds interesting.

      I agree, I don’t think the vaccine/Autism fraternity will allow something as inconvenient as evidence to effect their ideas.

      S G

      • In reply to #3 by bluebird:

        In reply to #2 by Nitya:

        why the number of cases is on the increase

        A significant reason (I read a while back) is simply a case of *now that we know what to look for…

        Agreed! Identifying any disorder is half the battle. Nonetheless, I felt that this element had been factored into the results?
        I wonder what the mothers were doing in the early stages of pregnancy?

    • In reply to #2 by Nitya:

      I’m still curious as to why the number of cases is on the increase.

      These findings are really interesting. I’m glad scientists are beginning to unravel the mystery of this disorder.

      1: It’s an anomaly, not a disorder.

      2: I think the number of cases are not on the rise. I strongly suspect that kids are just being identified when they otherwise wouldn’t have been. That’s like asking where there are so many transgender children now.

      3: Like any other in-vogue diagnosis, I suspect that many people are being misdiagnosed, just as happens with ADHD.

    • In reply to #2 by Nitya:

      I’m still curious as to why the number of cases is on the increase.

      These findings are really interesting. I’m glad scientists are beginning to unravel the mystery of this disorder.

      I think that it is not that there are many cases, more than before, it is just that there are at last diagnostic tools
      to define problems.

  2. One effect of the altered brain. noted above, could simply have as a consequence an increased vulnerability to vaccine contents, such as mercury. formaldehyde, various adjuvants, and foreign proteins. Is there a large enough cohort to see if infants with altered brains and who did not receive any vaccinations would be non-autistic? I am particularly interested in the rise of autistic behaviors in tandem with the rise in vaccination burdens. As far as I know, autism, which at its most florid is easily diagnosed if only as extremely odd behaviors, was first described in the early 40′s, with vaccines beginning in the late 30′s. What explains the gender disparity (4-1 boys/girls), interestingly the same ratio of susceptibility to low doses of mercury exposure? I found a study which showed autistic-like behavior in experimental animals who were injected with a proportional amount of organic mercury compared with a human infant. Studies like that should be replicated. Unfortunately. there is so much money to be made with multiple vaccines, evidence which prompts one to question is ignored or actively not tolerated (present in the website (surprisingly) as ad hominem attacks — come on, folks. I took high school debating and was taught that you lower yourself by name calling only if your arguments are bereft of substance). I’ve been waiting for years for someone to explain how the some of the great infectious diseases of the 20th century (pertussis, diphtheria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever) decreased by 80-90% before the introduction of vaccines — the latter two diseases not even having a mass vaccination history. Would studies questioning vaccine’s efficacy and safety ever see the light of day in “reputable” scientific publication? Only when the patent runs out and something more profitable comes along. I hope I’m wrong in all this because who wouldn’t want vaccines to work safely, but there are still lots of questions.

    • In reply to #7 by Rad1:

      What explains the gender disparity (4-1 boys/girls), interestingly the same ratio of susceptibility to low doses of mercury exposure?… I’ve been waiting for years for someone to explain how the some of the great infectious diseases of the 20th century (pertussis, diphtheria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever) decreased by 80-90% before the introduction of vaccines — the latter two diseases not even having a mass vaccination history

      Where are you getting this information from?

      I found a study which showed autistic-like behavior in experimental animals who were injected with a proportional amount of organic mercury compared with a human infant.

      Can you provide a source? I think everyone here would be interested in seeing it, not least of all what the ethics committee would have said about such an experiment.

    • In reply to #7 by Rad1:

      One effect of the altered brain. noted above, could simply have as a consequence an increased vulnerability to vaccine contents, such as mercury. formaldehyde, various adjuvants, and foreign proteins. Is there a large enough cohort to see if infants with altered brains and who did not receive any va…

      You propose a compelling argument, however this study suggests that the damage is done in utero, that is before the infant is subjected to the unsought of vaccines. Statistics tell us that the risks of not being vaccinated far exceed any potential risk posed by the vaccine. In fact, vaccination and the subsequent reduction of infectious diseases is one of the greatest health outcomes in modern, western medicine.

    • In reply to #7 by Rad1:

      One effect of the altered brain. noted above, could simply have as a consequence an increased vulnerability to vaccine contents, such as mercury. formaldehyde, various adjuvants, and foreign proteins. Is there a large enough cohort to see if infants with altered brains and who did not receive any vaccinations would be non-autistic?

      This report of the paper says that the abnormalities started in the womb, before the baby was born, let alone before it was vaccinated.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26750786

      Scientists say they have new evidence that autism begins in the womb.

      Patchy changes in the developing brain long before birth may cause symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research suggests.

      The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, raises hopes that better understanding of the brain may improve the lives of children with autism.

      The sample is small, but follow-up work should clarify the results.

      US scientists analysed post-mortem brain tissue of 22 children with and without autism, all between two and 15 years of age.

      They used genetic markers to look at how the outermost part of the brain, the cortex, wired up and formed layers.

      Abnormalities were found in 90% of the children with autism compared with only about 10% of children without.

      Dr Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said: “If this new report of disorganised architecture in the brains of some children with autism is replicated, we can presume this reflects a process occurring long before birth.

      Some of the stuff you quote looks like it comes from anti-vax nutter sites.

      vaccine contents, such as mercury.

      Many Americans get far more mercury in their drinking water and fish, than they will ever get from vaccines!

      http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/sources.asp

      I’ve been waiting for years for someone to explain how the some of the great infectious diseases of the 20th century (pertussis, diphtheria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever) decreased by 80-90% before the introduction of vaccines — the latter two diseases not even having a mass vaccination history.

      There are other methods of infection control besides vaccination! Reference materials and explanations are readily available http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infection-control – all the way from the introduction of antiseptics in 1865.

      Joseph Lister (1827-1912), the Professor of Surgery at Glasgow and later at King’s College in London, realising the importance of Pasteur’s work, was the first to use an antiseptic (carbolic acid) during surgical operations, in 1865. It was very damaging to the hands of surgeons and nurses and led to the introduction of rubber gloves. – http://www.thornber.net/medicine/html/scimed.html#infect

    • In reply to #7 by Rad1:

      One effect of the altered brain. noted above, could simply have as a consequence an increased vulnerability to vaccine contents, such as mercury. formaldehyde…….

      Formaldehyde? You mean that stuff you find in pears? @ more than 600 times the concentration of that in Vaccines? QUICK ban the pear!

      • In reply to #19 by veggiemanuk:

        In reply to #7 by Rad1:

        Formaldehyde? You mean that stuff you find in pears? @ more than 600 times the concentration of that in Vacc…

        Shit, if they ban pears does that mean I’m not allowed to sit here making my own! I’m not sure how I would stop other than reducing my food intake to zero.

        I think me and my body would like to keep the formaldehyde, life is so much better when you’re alive.

    • In reply to #7 by Rad1:

      One effect of the altered brain. noted above, could simply have as a consequence an increased vulnerability to vaccine contents, such as mercury. formaldehyde, various adjuvants, and foreign proteins. Is there a large enough cohort to see if infants with altered brains and who did not receive any va…

      Autism is ancient, billions of years old. Even in somewhat modern literature there are examples of autistic behaviours in characters,
      see Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge or even the Matthew in ‘Anne of Green Gables’. Definitions are modern as hopefully so will solutions.

  3. I thought there was already a near-consensus by scientists that autism has a genetic component. The interesting thing is that research has shown that kids with autism (I have Asperger’s Syndrome) sometimes have otherwise neurotypical parents (usually the father) who have a few traits consistent with autism. My father, for example, believes he has Auditory Processing Disorder (which I also have), which is often comorbid with autism, and he also had issues with eye contact until adolescence. The other interesting thing is that both of us took a DNA test through 23andme.com We both have a genetic marker consistent with Tourette Syndrome. Neither of us have TS, but TS is apparently a close cousin with autism. Obviously, I have no conclusive evidence that my AS came from my dad, but what I have seen makes me think it’s possible that it did.

    • In reply to #13 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

      I thought there was already a near-consensus by scientists that autism has a genetic component.

      Nothing I read in this article would indicate that autism wasn’t genetic. It just says that you can start to see the effects of having autism as early as the womb. A disease could be genetic and start showing up in the womb.

      I also don’t understand why people are even talking about vaccines. I thought that the guy who presented the evidence that vaccines were implicated in Autism was conclusively shown to be faking his data.

      • In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #13 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

        I thought there was already a near-consensus by scientists that autism has a genetic component.

        Rad1 #7 was the only one linking it with a vaccine. Sorry if it appeared that I connected the two. Far from my intention!
        In fact, it was the complete opposite of my intention. ( I need to watch my wording)!

  4. to Zeuglodon who asked where I was getting the information from about the 80-90% reduction in the incidence of pertussis and diphtheria prior to the introduction of the vaccines against these illnesses. Easy, just look up in various almanacs the incidence of these illnesses starting in, say, 1900, and plot the decrease in incidence over the century. Then look at when the vaccines began. Started in the late 30′s but did not become widespread until the 50′s, I think–I don’t know exactly how long it took them to become a universal requirement. Zeoglodon also asked what my source was for the animal model of autism. I don’t have it at my fingertips, but a quick review of Google showed a number of extensive research summaries which addressed this topic. There are a lot of them; fortunately some entire articles are free: e.g “Animal models of autism spectrum disorders: Information for neurotoxicoligists” in a 2009 issue of Neurotoxicology. But I’ll rummage around for the one specific article I remember. Finally, in asking about a paper that documents autism like behavior in infant animals injected with a dose of organic mercury comparable to those injected in human animals, he asks about the appropriateness of an ethics committee review, I can only say 1) all human and animal experiments deserve such a review and 2) we’re talking about injecting a small number of experimental animals exactly in the way that all human infants are forcibly exposed to vaccine contents. Is there a concern here??
    Alan 4 asked about the brain changes occurring in utero, prior to any vaccination. My point was we don’t know if this finding is the cause of autism (if, in fact, it has one cause), or it is a change in the vulnerability of the infant to later vaccinations. As I mentioned, is there a large enough group of subjects who have brain changes who were not vaccinated and then developed autism. Might be hard to come by since vaccination is nearly universal. The claim is made that humans get exposed to more mercury in fish, pollution, etc. that we ever get in vaccines. The form of mercury, the route of exposure, and the age of the human are important variables. Interestingly, mothers of autistic children had higher levels of mercury from Rh immune globulin injections, dental amalgams, fish consumption and vaccine history than mothers of non-autistic children. Might just be a coincidence.

    To say this condition, or set of conditions, is genetic is not very helpful a) in one sense, everything is genetic, b) you can’t change genes safely yet in humans and b) the rapid increase in the diagnosis over a relatively short time argues more for environmental changes, much like the dramatic increase in diabetes in Ashkenazy Jews after immigration to Israel.

    The 4:1 boy girl ratio in autism (also found in ADHD) and for low dose mercury exposure can be found in Gilberg and Colman “The Biology of Autism Syndromes” 2nd ed. 1992.

    “Some of the stuff you quote looks like it comes from anti-vax nutter sites” supports my point about ad hominem arguments.

    I am not a mercury-causes-autism guy. I do believe that if ASD is new (in 1940′s) and becoming an epidemic, there will be a cause or causes of this Just doing, as Dr. Dawkins says, looking at evidence. I am disappointed that in a supposedly scientific forum such as this, there is little to show that questioning of the orthodox is going on. Getting religious? Say it ain’t so.

    • In reply to #17 by Rad1:

      “Some of the stuff you quote looks like it comes from anti-vax nutter sites” supports my point about ad hominem arguments.

      Identifying dubious sources has nothing to do with Ad-hom attacks. The faked ad-hom allegation is the the standard response of conspiracy theorists when their rubbish sources are debunked. If you have reputable sources, disclose them with direct links, not second-hand cherry-picked quotes or vague suggestions.

      I am not a mercury-causes-autism guy.

      Why quote it then? If it was a cause, I have pointed out much more abundant sources of it in the food-chain, and understand that alternative preservatives are now used in some vaccines.

      I do believe that if ASD is new (in 1940′s) and becoming an epidemic, there will be a cause or causes of this

      This anti-vax Autism crap is based on the faked study of charlatan ex.-Doctor Andrew Wakefield, who was struck off the UK medical register for his fraudulent and damaging claims.

      @7- Would studies questioning vaccine’s efficacy and safety ever see the light of day in “reputable” scientific publication?

      It is precisely because Andrew Wakefield’s faked study was published in a reputable journal before it was exposed, together with his dishonest denials in the USA, that the nonsense has persisted for so long. It is the very nature of peer-reviewed science that trials are copied by other scientists to test methodology and publish follow-on results. Even asking this question demonstrates a profound ignorance of the nature of reputable science. It is crap newspapers which regularly promote false claims from advertisers, NOT reputable journals.

      There will be a cause or causes, but that does not entitle anyone to cherry-pick scraps of information and make wild unevidenced assertions.

      Just doing, as Dr. Dawkins says, looking at evidence.

      No you are not! You are making wild claims without links to souces and suggesting conspiracy theories, beloved of anti-vax nutters. Americans have good reason to be suspicious of big business, because their politicians leave them exposed to exploitation by deceptive bankers, insurers, medical companies, junk-food producers, tobacco companies and polluting industries. The claim that more money can be made from vaccines than the medical treatments needed in their absence, is however ludicrous!

      I recently made the point about Americans being ripped off by the medical and medical insurance industry here:- http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2014/3/22/half-of-americans-believe-in-medical-conspiracy-theories#comment-box-33

      I am disappointed that in a supposedly scientific forum such as this, there is little to show that questioning of the orthodox is going on. Getting religious? Say it ain’t so.

      It ain’t so! You just made that up when your unsupported claims were questioned and challenged. Psychological projection

  5. In reply to #17 by Rad1:

    to Zeuglodon who asked where I was getting the information from about the 80-90% reduction in the incidence of pertussis and diphtheria prior to the introduction of the vaccines against these illnesses. Easy, just look up in various almanacs the incidence of these illnesses starting in, say, 1900,…

    They just didn’t have a name for autism until very recently. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t around. Many great thinkers are thought to have been autistic: Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, Beethoven, Bach…

    • In reply to #22 by lindawardselbie:

      Why are so many people not willing to donate bodies to science and allow for faster research that may provide answers to many disorders?

      Emotionalism: pure, unadulterated emotionalism. Plain and simple. When I die my body is going straight to the science lab.

      • In reply to #25 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

        In reply to #22 by lindawardselbie:

        Why are so many people not willing to donate bodies to science and allow for faster research that may provide answers to many disorders?

        Emotionalism: pure, unadulterated emotionalism. Plain and simple. When I die my body is going straight to the science lab.

        I’ve donated all my organs for transplant, but I really need to go the whole hog and let ‘em have the entire mess.

        S G

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