Brain Changes Noted In Second Trimester

A new study reveals that changes in the brain may occur as early as the second trimester for kids who are eventually diagnosed with autism.

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Photo credit: Matt Carr/Photodisc/Getty Images

Ongoing research on autism tries to give us hints as to not only what can help those families who are affected, but what the cause, or causes, may ultimately be. A new study may shed a little light on the latter — researchers discovered that the brains of children with autism had changes in areas of the brain that develop during the second trimester, indicating that autism may begin even earlier than previously thought.

In-depth study of the brain

Researchers worked with the autopsied brains of 22 children between the ages of 2 and 15. Eleven of the children had been diagnosed with autism and 11 had not. They concentrated on particular genes that are responsible for certain cell types that are found in the outer layer of the brain (the cortex). These regions seem to correspond with some of the symptoms of autism.

In most of the autism brain samples (10 out of the 11), they found patches of abnormal gene expression. Only one of the typical brains displayed similar findings. They were able to connect these parts of the brain with a certain stage of prenatal development, which happened to be during the second trimester. This possibly makes the origin of autism a prenatal occurrence.

How this ties in to other factors of autism, such as other genetic and environmental factors, is still a mystery. The scientists were also unable to determine if the cells simply were not there to begin with or if they were there, but malfunctioning.

What does this mean?

What this means is that there still is no single cause of autism that we can put our fingers on. There are too many variables to pinpoint one exact cause, because it's likely there is not one exact cause. This study reveals, however, that changes to the brain can begin earlier than we ever thought possible and that early intervention remains a vital part of care for those affected — it truly cannot be too early to start.

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