The Asia Pacific Autism Conference is ongoing in Perth Australia. Prof. David Amaral of the Mind Institute at U.C. Davis (California) will speak and present the first results from the Autism Phenome Project. This is a study to separate autism into various groups, or phenomes.
Here is a blurb from the press announcement for the conference:
The announcement of the first results of the Autism Phenome Project, the largest and most comprehensive assessment of children with Autism ever attempted. The project started in 2006 and is being conducted at the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis). It is headed by Dr David Amaral and involves 52 scientists across eight fields. Dr Amaral is the President of the International Society of Autism Research. He is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at the Centre for Neuroscience at UC Davis. He is also Research Director and Beneto Foundation Chair of the MIND Institute. Dr Amaral will announce the results.
An Australian news outlet carried the story as US researchers’ discovery promises answers on autism.
Researchers from the University of California Davis’s MIND Institute in Sacramento began the Autism Phenome Project in 2006. They have been studying the brain growth, environmental exposure and genetic make-up of 350 children aged between 2 and 3 1/2 years, and have so far found two biologically distinct subtypes of autistic brain development.
One group of children – all boys – had enlarged brains and most had regressed into autism after 18 months of age; another group appeared to have immune systems that were not functioning properly.
Prof. Amaral’s slides have been made available.
They show, amongst other findings
Total cerebral volume is highly variable in ASD, but appears to be on average higher in ASD boys than controls.
There are various onset types: early onset, plateau, and regression.
Those who exhibit loss of skills have enlarged brains. But, interestingly, the head circumferences start to diverge at about 4-6 months. I.e. there are signs even before the regression occurs.
However, he has a talk “Neurobiological and neuro-immune features of Autism” with the following abstract:
The slides do not appear to discuss the immune phenotype mentioned in the press. However, Autism now affects 1:110 children in the United States. It is a complex disorder that likely has many variants and various etiologies. The first half of this presentation evaluates the hypothesis that the amygdala plays an important role in the pathophysiology of autism. First, MRI studies of the amygdala in children with autism are presented. Then, postmortem data on the morphology of the amygdala in autism are described. Observations are presented both on neurons and glia in the amygdala. Taken together these data confirm that the amygdala is clearly pathological in autism. Given that the amygdala is pathological, what might this pathology contribute to the behavioural impairments of autism? To address this issue, research on the nonhuman primate is discussed. These studies highlight a role for the amygdala in fear regulation and perhaps in mediating the co?morbid anxiety in autism. In the second part of the talk, data demonstrating abnormalities of the immune system of children with autism and a subset of mothers of children with autism are discussed. I also review findings of a nonhuman primate model of autism based on a neuroimmune intervention.