"Researchers found unusual cell development in parts of children's brains that develop during pregnancy. The abnormalities were found in areas that control social functioning, emotions, and communication." (Via CBS)
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers studied brain tissue from 11 children who died young and also had autism.
The study revealed patches of disorganization of neurons near the cortex of the brain, a thin layer of cells that control learning and memory.
One of the researchers told NBC the cells didn't develop properly. "Brain cells are there but they haven't changed into the kind of cell they are supposed to be. It's a failure of early formation."
These are signs that the changes causing autism likely happen while a child is still in the womb. (Via KCNC)
But according to a writer for Wired, these latest findings will only add to the uncertainty of autism research, where the neuroscience and genetics are already conflicted.
"The researchers found these abnormalities in ... areas with roles in language and cognition that are - in a very broad and hand-wavey sort of way - relevant to the symptoms of autism. They did not see them in the occipital cortex, a region primarily associated with vision, which isn't typically disrupted in autism."
While these researchers do believe their findings are a step forward in early detection of autism, some doctors say to be cautious about any findings.
A geneticist at UCLA told NPR he'd like to know the results from hundreds of brains, rather than just 11. "What fraction of all the kids with autism are going to have these small patches? I think the jury's out on that."
Currently, autism affects 1 in 50 U.S. children. No cure has been discovered.