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J Neurodev Disord. 2009 Mar;1(1):81-90. doi: 10.1007/s11689-009-9009-8.

Teasing apart the heterogeneity of autism: Same behavior, different brains in toddlers with fragile X syndrome and autism.

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Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Department of Psychiatry, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB#3367, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3367, USA.


To examine brain volumes in substructures associated with the behavioral features of children with FXS compared to children with idiopathic autism and controls. A cross-sectional study of brain substructures was conducted at the first time-point as part of an ongoing longitudinal MRI study of brain development in FXS. The study included 52 boys between 18-42 months of age with FXS and 118 comparison children (boys with autism-non FXS, developmental-delay, and typical development). Children with FXS and autistic disorder had substantially enlarged caudate volume and smaller amygdala volume; whereas those children with autistic disorder without FXS (i.e., idiopathic autism) had only modest enlargement in their caudate nucleus volumes but more robust enlargement of their amygdala volumes. Although we observed this double dissociation among selected brain volumes, no significant differences in severity of autistic behavior between these groups were observed. This study offers a unique examination of early brain development in two disorders, FXS and idiopathic autism, with overlapping behavioral features, but two distinct patterns of brain morphology. We observed that despite almost a third of our FXS sample meeting criteria for autism, the profile of brain volume differences for children with FXS and autism differed from those with idiopathic autism. These findings underscore the importance of addressing heterogeneity in studies of autistic behavior.


Amygdala; Autism; Brain volume; Caudate; Children; Fragile X syndrome; Structural MRI

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