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Brain Dev. 2003 Sep;25(6):377-82.

Purkinje cell vulnerability and autism: a possible etiological connection.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, St. Paul Professional Building I, 5959 Harry Hines Boulevard, Suite 520, Dallas, TX 75390-9101, USA.


Autism is a neurological disorder of unknown etiology. The onset of the abnormal growth and development within the brain is also not known. Current thought by experts in autism is that the time of onset is prenatal, occurring prior to 30 weeks gestation. However, autism comprises a heterogeneous population in that parents report either that their child was abnormal from birth, or that their child was developmentally normal until sometime after birth, at which time the child began to regress or deteriorate. Anecdotal reports suggest that some children with autism have significant illness or clinical events prior to the development of autistic symptoms. Conceivably, these children may become autistic from neuronal cell death or brain damage sometime after birth as result of insult. To support this theory is that marked Purkinje cell loss, the most consistent finding in the autistic disorder, can result from insult. Evidence suggests that the Purkinje cell is selectively vulnerable. This article discusses a theory that the selective vulnerability of the Purkinje cell may play a role in the etiology of autism, and suggests that a future direction in autism research may be to investigate the possibility of neuronal cell loss from insult as a cause of autism. Results of a small pilot survey are also discussed.

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