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Med Hypotheses. 2010 May;74(5):919-21. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2008.11.048. Epub 2010 Feb 9.

Olfactory bulb dysgenesis, mirror neuron system dysfunction, and autonomic dysregulation as the neural basis for autism.

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Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD, La Jolla, CA 92093-0109, USA.


Autism is a disorder characterized by social withdrawal, impoverished language and empathy, and a profound inability to adopt another's viewpoint - a failure to construct a "theory of mind" for interpreting another person's thoughts and intentions. We previously showed that these symptoms might be explained, in part, by a paucity of mirror neurons. Prompted by an MRI report of an individual with autism, we now suggest that there may be, in addition, a congenital aplasia/dysplasia of the olfactory bulbs with consequent reduction of vasopressin and oxytocin receptor binding. There may also be sub-clinical temporal lobe epilepsy affecting the recently discovered third visual system that is rich in "empathy" related mirror neurons (MNS) and projects (via the TOP junction - just below the inferior parietal lobule) to limbic structures that regulate autonomic outflow. This causes deranged autonomic feedback, resulting in additional deficiencies in MNS with loss of emotional empathy and introspection.

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