Oculomotor evidence for neocortical systems but not cerebellar dysfunction in autism.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the functional integrity of cerebellar and frontal systems in autism using oculomotor paradigms. BACKGROUND: Cerebellar and neocortical systems models of autism have been proposed. Courchesne and colleagues have argued that cognitive deficits such as shifting attention disturbances result from dysfunction of vermal lobules VI and VII. Such a vermal deficit should be associated with dysmetric saccadic eye movements because of the major role these areas play in guiding the motor precision of saccades. In contrast, neocortical models of autism predict intact saccade metrics, but impairments on tasks requiring the higher cognitive control of saccades. METHODS: A total of 26 rigorously diagnosed nonmentally retarded autistic subjects and 26 matched healthy control subjects were assessed with a visually guided saccade task and two volitional saccade tasks, the oculomotor delayed-response task and the antisaccade task. RESULTS: Metrics and dynamics of the visually guided saccades were normal in autistic subjects, documenting the absence of disturbances in cerebellar vermal lobules VI and VII and in automatic shifts of visual attention. Deficits were demonstrated on both volitional saccade tasks, indicating dysfunction in the circuitry of prefrontal cortex and its connections with the parietal cortex, and associated cognitive impairments in spatial working memory and in the ability to voluntarily suppress context-inappropriate responses. CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate intrinsic neocortical, not cerebellar, dysfunction in autism, and parallel deficits in higher order cognitive mechanisms and not in elementary attentional and sensorimotor systems in autism. (+info)
Genome-wide scan for autism susceptibility genes. Paris Autism Research International Sibpair Study.
Family and twin studies have suggested a genetic component in autism. We performed a genome-wide screen with 264 microsatellites markers in 51 multiplex families, using non-parametric linkage methods. Families were recruited by a collaborative group including clinicians from Sweden, France, Norway, the USA, Italy, Austria and Belgium. Using two-point and multipoint affected sib-pair analyses, 11 regions gave nominal P -values of 0.05 or lower. Four of these regions overlapped with regions on chromosomes 2q, 7q, 16p and 19p identified by the first genome-wide scan of autism performed by the International Molecular Genetic Study of Autism Consortium. Another of our potential susceptibility regions overlapped with the 15q11-q13 region identified in previous candidate gene studies. Our study revealed six additional regions on chromosomes 4q, 5p, 6q, 10q, 18q and Xp. We found that the most significant multipoint linkage was close to marker D6S283 (maximum lod score = 2.23, P = 0.0013). (+info)
Clarifying an ambiguous functional analysis with matched and mismatched extinction procedures.
Results of functional analysis were ambiguous in suggesting that self-injurious behavior (SIB) was maintained by escape, sensory reinforcement, or both. To help clarify these results, we compared escape extinction, sensory extinction, and the combined treatments. Sensory extinction proved to be a necessary and sufficient treatment, whereas escape extinction failed to decrease SIB. These analyses helped to clarify the function of SIB and to identify an effective and efficient treatment. (+info)
Is integer arithmetic fundamental to mental processing?: the mind's secret arithmetic.
Unlike the ability to acquire our native language, we struggle to learn multiplication and division. It may then come as a surprise that the mental machinery for performing lightning-fast integer arithmetic calculations could be within us all even though it cannot be readily accessed, nor do we have any idea of its primary function. We are led to this provocative hypothesis by analysing the extraordinary skills of autistic savants. In our view such individuals have privileged access to lower levels of information not normally available through introspection. (+info)
Etiology of infantile autism: a review of recent advances in genetic and neurobiological research.
The etiology of autism is complex, and in most cases the underlying pathologic mechanisms are unknown. Autism is a hetereogeneous disorder, diagnosed subjectively on the basis of a large number of criteria. Recent research has investigated genetics, in utero insults and brain function as well as neurochemical and immunological factors. On the basis of family and twin studies, there appears to be a genetic basis for a wide "autistic syndrome." About a quarter of cases of autism are associated with genetic disorders such as fragile X syndrome or with infectious diseases such as congenital rubella. Genetic studies have shown an association between autism markers of brain development such as 3 markers of the c-Harvey-ros oncogene and the homeobox gene EN2. In some cases, autism is associated with insults early in gestation, including thalidomide embryopathy. Autism may arise from abnormal central nervous system functioning, since most autistic patients have indications of brain dysfunction, and about half of them have abnormal electroencephalograms. Similarly, the pattern of evoked response potentials and conduction time is altered in autistic children. There is substantial evidence from neuroimaging studies that dysfunctions in the cerebellum and possibly the temporal lobe and association cortex occur in autistic symptoms. Neurochemical studies have investigated the role of serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine, since levels of these neurotransmitters are altered in autism, although other hypotheses implicate overactive brain opioid systems and changes in oxytocin neurotransmission. Autoimmunity may also play a role; antibodies against myelin basic protein are often found in children with autism, who also have increased eosinophil and basophil response to IgE-mediated reactions. In summary, the prevailing view is that autism is caused by a pathophysiologic process arising from the interaction of an early environmental insult and a genetic predisposition. (+info)
Heterogeneity and the genetics of autism.
The objective of this review is to summarize recent data on the genetics of autism, highlight the evidence for genetic heterogeneity and extend the implications of these findings for the identification of susceptibility genes in this disorder. Family studies have shown that autism runs in families and twin studies indicate that the basis of that familial aggregation is genetic. As a result the prospects for the identification of susceptibility genes using either linkage or association studies are quite good. However, recent evidence is accumulating suggesting that the disorder is genetically heterogeneous; higher functioning individuals with autism may arise from separate genetic mechanisms that lower functioning ones. If true, this will make the detection of linkage and association much more difficult. (+info)
The puzzle of autism: an ophthalmologic contribution.
PURPOSE: A previous study of 86 thalidomide-affected subjects with ophthalmic manifestations revealed the unexpected finding of autism in 4 of the 5 severely retarded individuals. The subjects had anomalies associated with an early gestational effect of thalidomide, including facial nerve palsy and incomitant strabismus. Because autism has been observed in a few cases of Mobius sequence (Mobius syndrome), a condition characterized by involvement of the sixth and seventh cranial nerves, the similarity to early thalidomide embryopathy suggested a relation between cranial nerve involvement and autism. The present study was undertaken to further evaluate the association of autism with patients manifesting findings of Mobius syndrome. METHODS: A prospective study of 25 Swedish patients with Mobius sequence was conducted. The patients had a complete multidisciplinary evaluation, including ophthalmologic and psychiatric examinations and standard testing for autism. Findings associated with autism were compared with the ocular and systemic anomalies of the 4 thalidomide-affected subjects. RESULTS: In the Mobius group 6 patients had autism, achieving the criteria for autism according to all the diagnostic manuals that were used. One patient showed autistic-like conditions meeting fewer numbers of the criteria. A few were too young to be meeting evaluated. Incomitant strabismus ranging from primary abduction defects alone to a horizontal gaze paresis pattern was noted in these patients, in addition to characteristic findings of seventh nerve paresis. Aberrant lacrimation was observed in many cases, especially often associated with autism. CONCLUSION: The common group of anomalies noted in both cases of thalidomide embryopathy and Mobius sequence suggests that brain-stem damage probably early in embryogenesis can sometimes be associated with autism. (+info)
Spatial attention deficits in patients with acquired or developmental cerebellar abnormality.
Recent imaging and clinical studies have challenged the concept that the functional role of the cerebellum is exclusively in the motor domain. We present evidence of slowed covert orienting of visuospatial attention in patients with developmental cerebellar abnormality (patients with autism, a disorder in which at least 90% of all postmortem cases reported to date have Purkinje neuron loss), and in patients with cerebellar damage acquired from tumor or stroke. In spatial cuing tasks, normal control subjects across a wide age range were able to orient attention within 100 msec of an attention-directing cue. Patients with cerebellar damage showed little evidence of having oriented attention after 100 msec but did show the effects of attention orienting after 800-1200 msec. These effects were demonstrated in a task in which results were independent of the motor response. In this task, smaller cerebellar vermal lobules VI-VII (from magnetic resonance imaging) were associated with greater attention-orienting deficits. Although eye movements may also be disrupted in patients with cerebellar damage, abnormal gaze shifting cannot explain the timing and nature of the attention-orienting deficits reported here. These data may be consistent with evidence from animal models that suggest damage to the cerebellum disrupts both the spatial encoding of a location for an attentional shift and the subsequent gaze shift. These data are also consistent with a model of cerebellar function in which the cerebellum supports a broad spectrum of brain systems involved in both nonmotor and motor function. (+info)