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Brain Res. 2011 Mar 22;1380:175-86. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2010.09.061. Epub 2010 Sep 22.

Bridging the gap between MRI and postmortem research in autism.

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University of California, Davis School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The MIND Institute, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA.


Autism is clearly a disorder of neural development, but when, where, and how brain pathology occurs remain elusive. Typical brain development is comprised of several stages, including proliferation and migration of neurons, creation of dendritic arbors and synaptic connections, and eventually dendritic pruning and programmed cell death. Any deviation at one or more of these stages could produce catastrophic downstream effects. MRI studies of autism have provided important clues, describing an aberrant trajectory of growth during early childhood that is both present in the whole brain and marked in specific structures such as the amygdala. However, given the coarse resolution of MRI, the field must also look towards postmortem human brain research to help elucidate the neurobiological underpinnings of MRI volumetric findings. Likewise, studies of postmortem tissue may benefit by looking to the findings from MRI studies to narrow hypotheses and target specific brain regions and subject populations. In this review, we discuss the strengths, limitations, and major contributions of each approach to autism research. We then describe how they relate and what they can learn from each other. Only by integrating these approaches will we be able to fully explain the neuropathology of autism.

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