Just under 5.5 million adults have Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States, according to the CDC.
And previous research indicated that ASD-related brain changes only occurred in specific regions believed to impact language and social behavior.
But, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has found that ASD-related brain changes are present throughout the cerebral cortex– a finding that substantially impacts scientists’ understanding of ASD’s progression on a molecular level.
“This work represents the culmination of more than a decade of work of many lab members, which was necessary to perform such a comprehensive analysis of the autism brain,” said Dr. Daniel Geschwind, one of the study’s authors.
Unlike other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, ASD and other psychiatric disorders do not have such explicit pathologies.
This fact alone has made developing therapies and treatments for ASD patients much more challenging in the past.
The researchers at UCLA first sequenced RNA from each main cortical lobe. This allowed them to analyze the gene expression in eleven cortical regions.
The brain tissue samples used were obtained from one hundred and twelve deceased people with ASD. Then, these samples were compared with healthy brain tissue.
The team discovered that every cortical region showed ASD-related brain changes. However, the largest disparity in gene levels were observed in the visual cortex and parietal cortex– a region of the brain responsible for processing information such as pain, touch, and temperature.