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Front Chem. 2016 Mar 15;4:12. doi: 10.3389/fchem.2016.00012. eCollection 2016.

Prenatal Neurogenesis in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California at DavisSacramento, CA, USA; Institute for Pediatric Regenerative Medicine, Shriners Hospitals for ChildrenSacramento, CA, USA.


An ever-increasing body of literature describes compelling evidence that a subset of young children on the autism spectrum show abnormal cerebral growth trajectories. In these cases, normal cerebral size at birth is followed by a period of abnormal growth and starting in late childhood often by regression compared to unaffected controls. Recent work has demonstrated an abnormal increase in the number of neurons of the prefrontal cortex suggesting that cerebral size increase in autism is driven by excess neuronal production. In addition, some affected children display patches of abnormal laminar positioning of cortical projection neurons. As both cortical projection neuron numbers and their correct layering within the developing cortex requires the undisturbed proliferation of neural progenitors, it appears that neural progenitors lie in the center of the autism pathology associated with early brain overgrowth. Consequently, autism spectrum disorders associated with cerebral enlargement should be viewed as birth defects of an early embryonic origin with profound implications for their early diagnosis, preventive strategies, and therapeutic intervention.


autism spectrum disorders; cerebral cortex; megalencephaly; neural progenitors; neuronal migration

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