The Shape of Brain’s Cerebellum Might Be Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder

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The differences in cerebellum’s structure could be linked to aspects of autism spectrum disorder, writes a neuroimaging study conducted by the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC).

The study was published online on July 11 in the journal PLOS One, titled “Reduced structural complexity of the right cerebellar cortex in male children with autism spectrum disorder.”

After scanning the brains of 20 boys with autism and 18 boys without autism, researchers found significant differences between the surfaces of the cerebellums. Boys with autism had a flatter surface of the cerebellum’s right side than the boys without the neurodevelopmental disorder.

The right side of the cerebellum is involved in processing language.

According to the researchers, a flatter cerebellum is linked to differences in both thinking and communication abilities, which are usually affected by autism.

However, the study couldn’t prove that these differences were the ones causing autism.

Rethinking the Cerebellar Function

Kristina Denisova, the senior author of the study and the assistant professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University (New York City), explains why their study is important:

“Our findings suggest we may need to rethink the role of cerebellar function and structure in young individuals at risk for atypical brain development.”

The cerebellum is just 10% of the volume of the brain, but it contains almost 80% of all neurons. The area was believed to process motor function, but recently it was discovered that it can also regulate learning, thinking skills and sensory development.

In studies on autism, most brain scans focused on analyzing the cerebrum, explains Denisova:

“That’s partly a function of the unique, irregular shape of the cerebellum, which is difficult to analyze with conventional imaging techniques. Imagine looking at only 20 percent of the brain’s neurons and attempting to paint a comprehensive picture of atypical development in humans based on such limited knowledge.”

Denisova explains that the findings could be interpreted as follows: “increased structural complexity of the cerebellum may enhance implicit learning in atypically developing boys.”

Researchers are now looking to find the answer to a new question: could early life differences in perception “shape cerebellar development and account for the current structural findings in boys with autism?”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere