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Neurologist. 2003 Mar;9(2):99-109.

Childhood autism: a circuit syndrome?

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112, USA.



Autism is a disorder that can lead to life-long disability. Currently, the etiology of autism is unknown, and although there are treatments for some of the behavioral abnormalities, there is no cure.


While this article will review the clinical, anatomic, and pathologic features seen in autism, the primary focus will be to present a new and provocative unifying theory regarding the underlying mechanisms causing this disorder. Current research advances, some controversial, will be discussed, and a novel definition of autism as a "circuit syndrome" will be presented. The work elaborated here will tie many of the disparate findings together, based on the idea that autism arises from abnormalities of the cerebellolimbic circuitry. Some of the more alternative theories of autism, such as mercury toxicity, linkage to the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, and the use of secretin will be discussed. Finally, pharmacologic treatment options will be reviewed.


Autism is not single disorder but represents dysfunction of the cerebellolimbic circuitry that can arise from many different etiologies.

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