New study suggests autism starts in the womb
November 8th, 2011
06:13 PM ET

New study suggests autism starts in the womb

Children with autism have many more brain cells than typically developing children, researchers have found, supporting previous research that suggests that autism may be caused by something going awry before a baby is born as opposed to something triggering autism in a toddler.

Scientists studied the brains of 13 boys and found those with autism had 67% more brain cells than typically developing boys. They specifically looked at the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex because it's the part that's responsible for social, emotional, communication and language development. Having too many neurons or nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls the very features that children with autism struggle with may explain the origin of autism, the study suggests.

"In autism something is going terribly wrong with mechanisms that control the number of neurons beginning in prenatal life and may extend to perinatal and early post-natal life," says lead author Eric Courchesne, Ph.D.  When there are too many brain cells, the brain can't wire itself up correctly.  If there's too much wiring in the prefrontal cortex, it could help explain why children with autism have poor social skills, difficulty communicating and why some may never learn to speak at all.

In addition to finding too many brain cells, Courchesne and his colleagues found the brains of children with autism were heavier than those of typically developed children. "The brains of boys with autism were 17.6% heavier than controls. It wasn't as big as would be predicted based on the neuron count alone," says Courchesne. He adds that he would have predicted those brains to be maybe 30% heavier than a normally developing brain. He acknowledges that this raises more questions than it answers, which is why more research like this needs to be done.

Even though this is only a very small study – the brains of  seven boys with autism and six boys without were analyzed – this research is being seen as quite important because this study looked at the brains of boys between the ages of 2 and 16. Previous studies included brain samples from older individuals, with severe autism and other mental disabilities. Determining how many neurons are in the brain can  be done  only after somebody has died, Courchesne explains, and there simply aren't that many samples of brains from children available. The brain samples for this research came from children who had died from drowning or other accidents.

There are only two parts of the brain where neurons are generated after birth – in the hippocampus and in the olfactory bulb. Because this study looked at a part of the brain where all the neurons are generated before the a baby is born, the findings add significantly to the mounting biological evidence that autism develops before birth in "some, possibly all, cases," according to an accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published the research on Tuesday.

Courchesne says that neurons or nerve cells really start developing in the prefrontal cortex at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. Between the 10th and 20th week of gestation, the number of fetal brain cells grow from maybe hundreds of thousands to more than 20 billion in a part of the brain that doesn't exist in lower mammals. He also says that the brain produces about 20 billion more cells that help the growth of another layer in the brain, but that those extra cells are supposed to die towards the end of a pregnancy. So increased nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex or brain overgrowth or maybe a combination of both may contribute to autism.

This isn't the first study to suggest brain size or overgrowth play a role in autism.  "These new results, along with an earlier study reporting altered wiring of the prefrontal cortex, focus our attention on this critical area of the brain in autism, according to Dr. Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health. The NIMH, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health, supports the University of California- San Diego Autism Center of Excellence, where Courchesne conducts his research.

"This is a good example where you have too much of a good thing, it can be bad for you," says Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a neurologist and autism expert at the Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.  He likens the brain to an assembly line with too many workers (brain cells) sitting around. And when you have too many workers on the line, they can interfere with one another rather than contribute to the factory's (or brain's) productivity. Wiznitzer agrees that even though this is a small study, it's consistent with previous research.

"It's groundbreaking [even though] it doesn't give us a clear answer," says Dr. Jeremy Veenstra-Vanderweele, an autism researcher at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. He says this research is "significant because it narrows the window during development when autism-related brain abnormalities emerge."

All of the experts agree the reason that too many nerve cells exist is not yet known. This study suggests it might be the excess number of nerve cells or the excess brain size that is linked to autism, or it might be a combination of both. But since the excess neurons were found in a part of the brain that develops before a child is born, it points to a prenatal problem playing a role in autism.

"This is not consistent with that claims that heavy metals [from vaccines for example] cause the death of brain cells," says Wiznitzer, because there are too many brain cells not less. The authors of the editorial suggest that this study along with previous brain studies and recent advances in genetics, imaging, neuropathology, animal models, and epidemiology "autism research is at last turning a corner."

soundoff (310 Responses)
  1. Cralos Simones

    The article says that the study "suggests" it doesn't say that the study 'proves'. Human biology is complex, and we should wait for further research to be done before getting riled up about something that's not even proven yet.

    November 9, 2011 at 08:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Dr Bill Toth

    Gee I would have thought more brain cells would be a good thing. Live with Intention, DrBillTothCom/blog

    November 9, 2011 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      If you really are a doctor, which I seriously doubt based upon your obvious level of generalization and ignorance may I suggest some points?

      More of anything is good up to a certain point, after that it becomes unmanageable. More people means security, too many means crime. More communications means easier access to information, too much means congestion and finding what you need diminishes. More of any one of a number of chemicals or hormones in the human system can be good for the short term, but long term means a wide variety if illness and disease.

      Please, if you really are a doctor, get a new job as your intelligence level is not safe for your patients.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:54 | Report abuse |
  3. Ithink

    I strongly think it could be the food we eat and the environment we live in

    November 9, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tannim

      You would be correct. See http://msgmyth.org

      November 9, 2011 at 10:50 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      I strongly think they're just born that way, and would be no matter what environment they were conceived and gestated in.

      November 10, 2011 at 02:57 | Report abuse |
  4. Kathleen

    I view this research as good news, except for the suggestion that nothing after birth affects autism. Further research should explore the brain characteristics of non-autistic children in familes with a history of autism, and non-autistic brains that share the large volume/weight characteristics. I have long wondered based on my own family history if there could be a predisposition to autism that could be triggered (or exacerbated) after birth. I agree that any theoretical risk of vaccination is far outweighed by the risk of NOT vaccinating, however, my concern that current efforts to disprove vaccine dangers could cause harm if they lead to ignoring environmental triggers completely. Parents who witnessed a rapid change in their child's behavior should not be ignored. We vaccinate and will continue to do so, but I want to know if things in our environment could trigger problems if we have a genetic predisposition to autism.

    November 9, 2011 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      Based upon your rational and ability, you SHOULD be a research doctor, or consider becoming one. You have the type of mindset that is needed to do this research, therefore it is your responsibility to see that it is done properly.

      People have to accept that if they are aware of something, it is their responsibility to do something about it. If everyone is created equal, then everyone equally has the responsibility to fix things and find solutions to problems.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:59 | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Based on our family tree, I've come to believe that in our case at least, Autism is genetic. Three siblings (husband, BIL & SIL) all have one son that are on the spectrum and in having looked back on that side of the "tree" I've identified a couple of uncles that I believe would be diagnosed but at the time were just considered, "the odd" ones of the family. Our 3yr old grandson is also Autistic and non-verbal and having looked at his birth father's family tree have found that his father also produced an Autistic son. What I have found interesting is that all were normal pregnancies/births and all four boys were actually early talkers, walkers and all were on the very top of the child development growth charts up until their 18mo immunizations (all had high fevers/rashes) at which time shortly after is when the first signs of regression began to appear. Now I don't believe that the vaccinations caused the Autism but I do question if they played a role in furthering it's development either by overloading their systems or possibly an allergic reaction. What I do know is that even though Autism is sometimes a struggle (moreso for those that I find I need to explain that Austim does not mean stupid) I wouldn't change any of the boys even if there was a "magic" cure. They are intelligent, creative and loving in their own ways and that is all that truly matters.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:42 | Report abuse |
  5. Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

    A basic fact was missed before your comment was posted, how can a vaccine increase the number of cells 24 months BEFORE it was given? The research shows that autistic brains have more cells and more synapses before birth.

    I am fairly certain that vaccine has not developed the ability to travel backwards in time and enter the womb to start growing those extra cells. 😐

    November 9, 2011 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tannim

      KSH, you don't see that beecause the common denominator between any pre-birth ASD signs and post-birth ASD signs isn't vaccines but the toxic sludge of ingredients that are found in vaccines are also found in the common diet–MSG, aluminum in the baking powder and deodorants, mercury gas injected from CFLs leaking through the tubes (not dietary, but can be inhaled), just to name a few. There's also an endocrine aspect to it which is affected by pre-natal hormone fluctuations from things like imbalances from not enough pregesterone or too much estrogen (soy is a huge culprit here). A large number of these things, if not all of them, can pass the placental barrier into the child and mess things up, not to mention compromise the entire immune system of the mother and allow other stuff (viruses, bacteria) to do the same. This is why the pre-natal diet is so important and so often overlooked by OB/GYNs.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:02 | Report abuse |
    • Carrie

      I know your theory makes sense, but then you have cases of twins, one autistic and one not.

      November 9, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse |
  6. Sheena

    My son is severely autistic. He was a very difficult baby. My mother would always tell me that he wouldn't look her in the eyes. I couldn't see that because he would look me in the eyes and still will give me eye contact. He would only let me or my mom hold him. It wasn't until he was around 18 month after seeing a thing on autism did I even think he was autistic. I did have him vaccinated and would again. I think it does happen in the womb. I also think that people who try to scare people away from vaccination is wrong for doing so. If you don't want to vaccinate your child that is up to you but don't go spreading false accusation. That in the long run is kill more kids and not saving one.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Heywood Jablowme

    So, where are all of the nutjobs that complain about vaccinations now? Idiots...

    November 9, 2011 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Obviously, you missed the dubious pleasure of reading Tannin's nonsensical drivel.

      November 9, 2011 at 21:59 | Report abuse |
  8. liveinpeace

    Maybe research should start to look at the effect of ultrasounds during pregnancy. It is known that a fetus doesn't like it and tends to move away. Ultrasounds generate heat and with so much focus on the brain this should be examined. I think they are overused and not reliable in the first place.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Maybe researchers should spend their resources investigating causes that are actually probable.

      November 10, 2011 at 03:01 | Report abuse |
  9. WorkAtHome

    Hopefully some day they will 100% know the cause and cure!

    November 9, 2011 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      There may not be a cure, at least not as we now understand biology. If the problem is a malformed brain, there may not be anything that can fix that.

      November 10, 2011 at 03:02 | Report abuse |
  10. Paleo

    from what i read – autism is directly related to gluten and casein in the child's diet. Remove gluten (all grains) and casein (especially cow's milk – goat is ok) and the symptoms disappear.

    November 9, 2011 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      You need to read more, because what you've just spewed is pure drivel.

      November 10, 2011 at 02:58 | Report abuse |
  11. Paleo

    Autism is directly related to gluted and casein intake.
    Remove all grains (gluten) and diary (casein) and the symptoms disapear.

    November 9, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mom

      I have one kid who has celiac. Even though we eat gluten free it has had no effect on his brother the aspie. The celiac kid on the other hand had much improved behavior. Food intolerance is not everything.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:20 | Report abuse |
    • OfReason

      @Paleo – and never double cross a leprechaun!

      November 9, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse |
  12. Mom

    My son, an Aspie, has always been different. His head was so large before birth the computer on the ultrasound had to be overridden. He was a quiet baby that almost never cried. His 2nd grade eval showed he had the memory skills of a graduate student, but the social skills of a toddler. He is a great kid, just a little different!

    November 9, 2011 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Portland tony

    There vary well be a link to the causes and possibly a treatment for autism hidden in the comments section of this blog. But right now no one can piece it together. In the end science will solve or resolve the issue.

    November 9, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • profjen

      There are too many variables that can contribute to this disorder that I doubt we will be able to pinpoint one variable. Odds are we will be looking at a long list of contributing variables and that in time perhaps put more "weight" on one or more of them. I doubt this disorder will ever be 100% preventable so in addition to studying etiology the scientific community also needs to study how we can help those who are diagnosed live healthy/happy lives.

      November 10, 2011 at 19:23 | Report abuse |
  14. Jyo

    My cousin has autism. His mom is eggetarian( ( no meat), cooked food always at home (no preservative stuff at all). Very careful of products she used. She is eco freak. So she took all the care even during pregnancy with this child. The only point she remembered to figure it out was she took Flu shot during her pregnancy and she repents a lot even though she believes that it might not be a cause.

    Science is vast and no one is perfect. It is already there in the nature. Our lives, climate, natural calamities... etc are all probabilities of science. What we are studying and studied was based on what we know and how much we know. I believe Doctors, expert scientists.. but i cannot surely believe what they study or researched is perfectly true.

    Example: Recently, crib bumper pads were not recommended due to SIDS.. but the same scientists in their previous study, recommended bumper pads. Now who is right and what is right? Tomorrow i wont be surprised if another theory or research bring those bumper pads back.

    Something is really wildly going wrong. This has to be researched like probabilities to take out odds. Something very common in either parents or genes or diet or environment is affecting those kids really bad. Save them please..... I have a new born and you dont know how much i observe her every step and behaviour. I am scared to death. I have serious health issues and i have no tolerance to bear anymore health problems.

    November 9, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Trainer

      Humans have been omnivores (meat and plants) for 3million years and have never seen the problems we are faced with today. Why ? because we need the protien that meat contains and the fat and the amino acid, our cells in our body and brain need protien and you can only get complete protien from meat. By "meat" I don't mean fast food burgers, i mean beef and poultry that is grass fed and range free. Brown eggs not white, whole milk, not lowfat, butter not margerine,
      there is a book called "Real Food" it explains what we should eat and why, suprisingly we had it right for 3 million years and were just now starting to get it wrong by going vegitarian and vegan, and eating to much fast food and lack of excersise.

      November 10, 2011 at 13:41 | Report abuse |
    • Bean

      @Trainer – Do some more research. Vegetarianism and veganism are about the healthiest ways of living. Just because this woman's child has autism doesn't mean you need to get on your soap box about eating meat. Someone eating a plant based diet can get everything an omnivore can except high cholesterol, higher risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes.......

      November 10, 2011 at 18:24 | Report abuse |
    • Noreen

      I also suspect the flu shot (broke out in a rash afterwards) and was not given Full Disclosure (on the vaccine said they don't know what it would do to the fetus...yet RECOMMEND IT). Don't get the flu shot when pregnant. I almost lost my baby because of my immune reaction and you don't know your body fighting your fetus because a medical Doctor recommended you do something that is NOT PROVEN to be GOOD TO YOUR BABY. They LIE!

      November 13, 2011 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
    • Jessica

      @Bean: FWIW, I know a vegan kid who has diabetes. I'm not saying it's bad to be vegan or that meat is superior, but there are some flaws in your thinking.

      December 27, 2011 at 15:48 | Report abuse |
    • Donna Reiser

      I think they are seeing more than one disease here. For some, their vitamin D receptors may be altered, meaning they would have to have much more vitamin D to develop the same.

      December 30, 2011 at 18:16 | Report abuse |
    • Donna Reiser

      Something else to consider are the pain killers given after a vaccine. Studies suggest that ibuprofen should be a first choice.

      December 30, 2011 at 18:43 | Report abuse |
  15. JC

    A sample size of 13 once healthy and once autistic boys is probably not enough to draw meaningful conclusions. The results could be due to sample error.

    November 9, 2011 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • i agree

      that was the first thing that i thought as well. i know that there are many different tools that scientists use, but 13 kids is not enough to conclude that there is a pattern. that's like saying "well, most of these 13 children were wearing blue, therefore, autistic children like the color blue." it seems that many "scientists" are willing to suspend proper judgement and scientific methods when studying "trendy" subjects, especially when it allows them to confirm whatever biases they already have.

      November 10, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse |
    • DC

      Larger studies stem from small ones like these....I agree, small sample size and cannot make conclusions from this alone.....but in the 1980s, a small case series was published of men getting ill from weird diseases which led to a larger study that discovered HIV/AIDS. Research starts somewhere.....I'll be curious to see if they can get a larger sample size or even look at this prospectively with imaging or PET scans.

      November 10, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
    • profjen

      Considering that less than 1% of the population has Autism, then finding 7 that are basically yoked with a control is difficult enough. It will take so time to collect a larger sample.

      November 10, 2011 at 19:20 | Report abuse |
    • Noreen

      Joke of a study. We already know that 10-15% of it is genetics BUT what about the other 85%? and the tens of thousands of parents who noticed a "vaccine reaction" and later...Autism. What is the percentage of VAERS kids who have Autism. Easy place to start IF there was full disclosure (why not ? have full disclosure). Hiding the truth/facts.

      November 13, 2011 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
    • texaskeptic

      I agree, now if only those ridiculous Wakefield supporters would realize this. Vaccines have been proven completely safe time and time again; but 10 kids abused by a sham doctor in an unethical study and one of the most effective preventative medicines in the history of mankind is demonized.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:28 | Report abuse |
  16. Ian's Father

    This is probably the first article in a long time that I've actually read through. More plausable? Not sure, just sat well with me. We have a 6 year old with autism–my wife and her friends seem to linger around the vaccine theory–I think it helps them adhere to some form of hope that they can control "after" the fact. Simply meaning they can either continue to carry that torch-or alter future vaccines for fear of further damage. I think it's harmless. None of us really know–we just cling onto the theory that best fits our belief system. I think it's before birth, but we still live our lives 1 day at a time. Good luck to parents of children with Autism-stay strong.

    November 9, 2011 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JC4242

      It's interesting that you say that. This is also the first article I've read completely through in quite some time. It sat well with me also, as I have always been certain that my son developed autism while in the womb. At six months old (if not sooner) he was clearly different from other babies I had known. Once he started crawling, he seldom wanted to be held or carried. He threw terrible tantrums, constantly. I always knew something wasn't right. Today,13 years later, he is an amazing young man who has come a *very* long way. He makes me proud every day and I know that God has done a magnificent miracle in his life. I can't wait to see what his future holds!

      March 30, 2012 at 02:36 | Report abuse |
  17. ****


    November 9, 2011 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. MakeThemEatCake

    If the increased neuron count this limited study hints at turns out to be a reliable cause, then the earlier one can enroll a child with autism in an occupational or speech therapy program the better. With any other disorder of the brain, results of a severe concussion or other accident that physically affects the brain, the brain has shown that it can develop connections to work around the damage. My son has autism and the therapy programs he is in have greatly helped him overcome many of the social and communication issues he had early in his life

    November 9, 2011 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • thx4playing

      My 5 year old is considered SDD, and possibly Autistic. I think anytime you have a child who is struggling, or falling behind, the sooner you can get help, the better.

      November 10, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse |
  19. Jennifer

    A brain wiring problem is what the creator of Brain Balance has theorized to be at the root of all neuro-behavioral disorders for years, and it's what he based the Brain Balance program on! The program uses sensory, cognitive, and motor exercises to repair the wiring issues in brain communication and improve rhythm and timing. You can read more about it at http://www.brainbalancecenters.com .

    November 9, 2011 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Chris

    So Jenny McCarthy removed some of ehr son's brain cells to cure him??

    November 9, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lordshipmayhem

      Actually, I think she removed some of her own.

      November 10, 2011 at 10:41 | Report abuse |
  21. Mom

    It seems like, since autism is increasing, the culprit is probably something that entered the arena somewhat recently (1980's) to affect the current generation. So my generation, for example, is full of mothers with exposure to SOMETHING that's causing the autism. It would make sense that it's IN the womb where it develops. Could be anything. Diet pop, plastics, etc. It's anyone's guess. I think the best bet would be to stay away (as much as we can) from the newer harmful environmental toxins. All these autistic children popping up is not simply random. There is too much bad in our environment! What it is, wish I knew!

    November 9, 2011 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Except there is no evidence that autism is actually increasing – only that it's diagnosis and reporting are increasing.

      November 9, 2011 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      Good point about the recent outbreak. I wonder if some sort of cause and effect maybe present in other societies?

      November 9, 2011 at 19:05 | Report abuse |
    • jorgath

      You know, it might well be nuclear. Hear me out on this, please, because I could be completely wrong and I'd like to be corrected if I am. But it's a fact that people today are exposed to more radiation, of all kinds, than we were 70 years ago. Thinner ozone layer, nuke testing, meltdowns, etc.

      My general idea is that if you want to look at things that changed that could cause an increase in in-utero problems in the 80s, you should actually be looking at mothers who were born (not gave birth) in the 50s and 60s, as they're the ones that were the majority of new mothers in the 80s. Compare their environmental factors to mothers who were born earlier. In the US, I see jet airplanes, nuclear weapons testing, nuclear power plants, toxic waste dumping, increased CO2 levels, chlorofluorocarbons, decreased ozone layer, and pesticides. Vaccines too, but if you want to explore vaccines I'd suggest you look at the vaccines the mother got as a child rather than the vaccines the child gets today, because the ones today are probably safer.

      But my guess is increased radiation levels beginning in the 50s and 60s –> increased autism in children of women who grew up during that time period beginning in the 80s.

      November 9, 2011 at 20:39 | Report abuse |
    • Spacetime

      SixDegrees is right. The criteria for an Autism diagnosis changes, meaning that children that would have been diagnosed with something else before are now being diagnosed with Autism instead. Also, sometimes, Autism is used as a catchall for when doctors don't know what's wrong. More diagnosed cases does not mean that there is actually a higher occurrence, it just means that more people are being placed in this category as opposed to the "slow," "strange," or "behavior problem" categories that they would have been placed in 20 or so years ago.

      November 10, 2011 at 08:45 | Report abuse |
    • Trainer

      Autism, heart disease, allergies, asthma, are all on the rise, It's my opinion but the only thing we have changed is diet and excersise. Humans are Omnivores, we can only sustain a healthy life and a healthy family by eating organic meat and produce, with the invention of pesticides and hormones introduced in the last 50 years as well as processed foods that our body can't break down or serve no purpose for us to eat, and not to mention SODA, and even worse DIET SODA!
      We don't stand a chance until we get back to basics, real food from real farms and organic meat and lots of fish!
      Fish is very important to pregnant women as well as excersise is for everyone, since we no longer have to get up at 5am to chase a buffalo, or ambush a mastadon, we have to excersise like our life depends on it, at least our childrens does.

      November 10, 2011 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
    • profjen

      I agree with SixDegrees.

      November 10, 2011 at 19:24 | Report abuse |
    • Donna Reiser

      It seems that vitamin D deficiency, vitamin D receptor differences, aspartame, and gluten are involved. These factors together may make it seem like vaccines are the cause. Vitamin D is needed for making glutathione, a major antioxidant.

      There are at least 2 ways to go with the effects on the brain from these factors. Lets assume that the mercury in the vaccines was a problem, just for sake of argument. Then why would some have problems when most don't? Obviously, there has to be differences. So if there is a vitamin D deficiency or the inability to use it properly, then the body cannot detoxify like in other children.

      Another possibility is that vaccines indirectly cause brain swelling as part of their natural actions. Obviously, they trick the immune system into gearing up for an infection. That is what they are supposed to do. But what if there are too many vaccines at once or the brain is more sensitive? But then, lets add in NutraSweet beverages which break down into formaldehyde and methanol – two known neurotoxins. Then give them Tylenol, which breaks down into a glutamine compound, and give them baby food or table food containing MSG. MSG and some of its metabolites are neurotoxins. There was a study on Tylenol vs. Advil when giving them to children for pain after vaccinations. The ibuprofen group was less likely to develop autism. Oh, and lets add vitamin D deficiency, making it difficult to remove the toxins and prevent the immune system from doing free radical damage. That is how the immune system works, it oxidizes the nasties, and if it makes a mistake, it targets healthy cells.

      As for the excessive neurons, that could be due to chemical over-excitement of the brain cells. Some of that might be a hereditary tendency, while diet and malnutrition can exacerbate it.

      Another factor that ties into vitamin D is the gender gap in developing autism. It turns out that trace amounts of estrogen may reduce the vitamin D requirement.

      As for recent changes that might create an upswing, here are some:

      1. Reduction of the RDA for vitamin D in children from 400 to 200, when 800 might be better.

      2. The sun scare. Parents are so afraid of babies getting cancer that they deprive them of vitamin D. If they are going to do that, then they should give high doses of vitamin D in supplement form (D3) and do blood level testing. Most Americans are deficient, and African-American even more.

      3. Increase in aspartame in products marketed to children.

      4. Increase in MSG and other gluten compounds added to foods.

      5. Increase in prepackaged foods given to children

      6. Increase in the number of vaccines per dose and the total number of vaccines.

      7. Increase in Tylenol being given to children.

      8. Decrease in breast feeding.

      9. More awareness and better screening giving the illusion of more cases.

      December 30, 2011 at 19:09 | Report abuse |
  22. Ana

    Has anyone considered the affects of ultrasound typically done routinely to get a picture of the baby at about 20 weeks? This is the time the brain is developing. Material scientist can alter cell structures of metals with the use of Ultrasound. Who is to say doctors are not altering the developing brain cells of the babies with ultrasound? If you do not need an ultrasound just don't get one. You will see your baby in a few short months.

    November 9, 2011 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GT

      Just one mom's experience, but I had no ultrasound with my child who has autism and had two with the one who doesn't.

      November 9, 2011 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
    • eternal_student

      There are no cells in metals. Metals are made from elements found in the periodic table. Cells can reproduce; metals cannot.

      November 9, 2011 at 22:26 | Report abuse |
    • thx4playing

      If you do not need an ultrasound, don't get one?
      how do you know if you need one? Ultrasounds are preventative measures, it's usually not until a technician finds something that could be a problem that you even know. They also help prepare parents and doctors if there is a chance there is a problem.

      November 10, 2011 at 12:54 | Report abuse |
  23. stacy h

    The hole that I see is that if they have more brain cells and don't know how they are wiring IN the brain at the time of development, how can they say death in brain cells due to the vaccines still can't cause autism? They don't know what ones have died and how the brain was wired. Why would (most) children be developing normally then until the point of vaccination? I do believe the theory that autistic children have more brain cells- but not that vaccinations aren't somehow affecting the development/wiring at a crucial time(the brain is STILL developing post birth!).

    November 9, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • insignificantScientist

      Considering autism is a social disorder (at least in the behavioral phenotype required for diagnosis), it would be difficult to diagnose one as having autism during early postnatal stages. Many of the criterion used for diagnosis rely upon behaviors that only begin to present in later stages of development as these biological processes often rely on experience-dependent refinement. The fact that these behaviors emerge approximately at 18 months (of course, there is variability here), makes them a target for temporal association with a variety of environmental factors children may be exposed to in the early postnatal stages. The fact that the public tends to already distrust vaccination makes childhood immunization even more prone to these sorts of associations (note: vaccines are both safe and efficacious, there is no conspiracy here. if you have the training to do so, take a look at the science). One could just as easily associate a change in the type of clothing a child is wearing with the onset of autism. This loose temporal association, however, by no means suggests causality.

      With the evidence currently available (by evidence i mean that backed science, not anecdote or emotion) it would be exteremly difficult to argue against a genetic mechanism for the disorder. However, how this/these genetic aberration(s) (more likely a variety of genetic aberrations that converge on the observed phenotype) translates to the observed phenotype remains to be seen. There is likely some gene/environment or gene/gene interaction that plays a role in onset.

      I find the study discussed in this article to be quite intrigueing as we may finally have a clue as to how genetic mechanisms underlying the disorder affect neurodevelopment. While the statistical power of the study is quite low, the study still offers insight into future directions for ASD research fitting with previous models that suggest abnormal neural proliferation and synaptogenesis. The door is now open for foward genetic studies as well more detailed examination of the consequences, on the cellular, circuit and behavioral level, of excessive neural proliferation in the frontal lobe.

      November 9, 2011 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
    • Kay Double You

      Points taken.

      The article "implies" but does not "state" that autism has one (point in development time) origin. While the article doesn't specifically discount what patient families have observed over the years, it does seem to, by its diction, imply that "autism begins before birth period." I for one would be very surprised if any disorder has only one cause or pathway.

      November 10, 2011 at 18:38 | Report abuse |
  24. Mom

    Vaccines can't cause autism. Heavy metals in the them can't possibly, since our heavy metal exposure has gone down while autism goes up. No more lead gasoline, paint, mercury thermometers breaking, etc. If anything, the kids of yesteryear had heavy metal exposure up to their ears!

    November 9, 2011 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Even more to the point – there is absolutely no scientific evidence linking autism with vaccination. None at all. The single report making such a claim has been withdrawn, it's author has been charged with committing scientific fraud, and his coauthors have all recanted their published positions. It was all about the author trying to manipulate stock in a vaccine company, and there wasn't a shred of science in it.

      November 9, 2011 at 17:13 | Report abuse |
  25. JD

    @Tom G: Numerous studies in several countries have shown that children who receive vaccinations DO NOT have a higher rate of autism than children who don't. Most Western European countries have national health programs that track vaccinations and autism diagnoses more completely than they are in the United States. That is what was meant by "There is no statistical difference in autism rates in children who have never received vaccinations". The increase in the number of DIAGNOSES of autism HAS increased over the last couple of decades, but the number of DIAGNOSES of mental retardation has DECREASED by a LARGER amount. The primary cause of the change in the number of diagnoses of autism is that a large number of children that would have been diagnosed as mentally retarded in the past are now diagnosed as having autism. Some of this is because autism is better understood now that it used to be, so doctors make more accurate diagnoses. Another part comes from the large number of children that are BOTH mentally retarded AND autistic are more often now diagnosed as just autistic instead of being diagnosed as just mentally retarded as they used to be.

    November 9, 2011 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Nickaruise

    I am learning more about ASD through the comments then through the article. I am open to "scientific facts" and how they are getting "closer" to an explanation but I wish that they'd stop writing these opened-ended articles saturated with "probable causes" yet can't give anyone straight answers as to what is the cause and what is the cure....

    November 9, 2011 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      There is no known cause. There is no known cure. Happy now?

      November 9, 2011 at 17:13 | Report abuse |
    • BBB

      Agreed. I believe this happens because the researchers are in a rush to get out their study published first, so the research is often not substantial enough to be definitive.

      November 9, 2011 at 18:18 | Report abuse |
    • Debra

      I agree about not knowing what the cause is. My son is autistic and I really don't care what the cause is print something when you have a cure for it.

      November 9, 2011 at 20:43 | Report abuse |
  27. Meg

    I have been living with autism for 18+ years and I don't CARE what caused my son's autism, all i care about is making sure he has the best life possible. I do not concern myself with the 2 C's Cause/Cure. The cause is unimportant and there will probably not be a cure in his lifetime so we deal with the here and now.

    November 9, 2011 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Dallas Mom

    This article was very informative; however, there is stil no solid evidence of what is causing autism. With all the the food additives, preservatives and prescription medication going around it's no wonder that something can wrong before birth. I think that the best way to protect an unborn child is to go all natural (REAL food, no preservatives, all organic, and fresh vegetable juices). If I get pregnant again, you better believe I won't take a single drug or get a flu shot or any other shot for that matter. Doctors tell you that drugs are "safe" during pregnancy but I can tell you from experience that most studies are inconclusive and are rated "C" (not studied) which is not good enough for me. The toxins we are putting into our body are changing things on the inside. I truly hope scientists and researchers figure out something.

    November 9, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BBB

      If I had known then, what you know now .... how lucky to be in the 2000s and know these things as a woman. My child has autism – I had the flu shot and took 50mgs of zoloft. How I regret both ... each and every day.

      November 9, 2011 at 18:22 | Report abuse |
    • Trainer

      Im with you...! Real Food ! I have had several issues with health in my past, nothing to serious i just cn't eat gluten anymore and as a result i have to read labels on EVERYTHING, at first it was a hastle to say the least, but now after reading all the "hydrogenated oils" and "triglycerides" and artificial ingredients placed in food that should not be there, i choose not to buy food unless I completely understand what is in it and know it's good for me. Its chalenging at first, but it becomes really easy and you save money not buying junk and can afford to eat healthy organic foods, meat is esential for protien, plants are esential for fiber and vitamins and fruits and so on... when we get back to basics, like we have done for 3 million years, we can see were we went wrong.

      November 10, 2011 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
    • Martha

      I also think that the article shows a plausible theory concerning the cause of autistic symptoms in children. I also believe there may be a genetic factor that may be carried on the X chromosome (like color blindness), which is why it affects males more than females.

      November 10, 2011 at 18:26 | Report abuse |
  29. Dave Evans

    Nothing is "causing" autism. It is a devolopmental disorder which probably has multiple causes including a genetic disposition. What causes us to have different personalities? The same things. Heavy metal exposure probably plays a role, but not from vaccines, rather back ground pollution that transfered from mother to baby while developing.

    November 9, 2011 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Victor Pavlovic

    Autism may begin in the womb?Another bad joke or are they serious?because there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic, and somebody needs to break the news to these researchers. They should have learned this back in high school, let alone in medical school, these guys are pathetic to say the least.Autism is increasing at a rate of 10 to 17 percent a year so just from that how is it genetic?This is a prime example of dead end research, or saying it bluntly, Meaningless.Everyone involved with the research here should be embarrassed, for putting out such garbage and calling it research. I call it disgusting!

    November 9, 2011 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      There is no solid evidence that autism rates are climbing. What is increasing is the frequency of autism being diagnosed due to a rise in public awareness.

      I don't think you're qualified to pass judgment on researchers.

      November 9, 2011 at 21:40 | Report abuse |
    • SPJ

      Autism DIAGNOSES are increasing – not necessarily the disease itself. As most of us have learned in high school or med school, as you say. Learn the difference. Stop the genetic epidemic of idiocy. Thanks.

      November 10, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse |
    • 711

      Is autism increasing or are more people being diagnosed with it because we now have autism spectrum disorder and Aspergers syndrome? In other words, the broader you make a diagnosis, the more people will be diagnosed.

      November 10, 2011 at 21:30 | Report abuse |
  31. Victor Pavlovic

    Sanjay Gupta is a wimp, and is afraid to say his true feelings toward vaccines and the autism connection, I guess he doesn't want to lose his good paying job, but at the least he should have a conscious.

    November 9, 2011 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      A "conscious"?

      Did you mean a "conscience"? Are you implying that autism is caused by vaccines?

      Have you been living in a cave?

      November 9, 2011 at 21:41 | Report abuse |
  32. Daae96

    people need to chill out...of course this is not for sure...it is simply a theory. just chill. and i think its pointless to put people down for stuff like this. they put a lot of time money and effort into these things and DUH they aren't for sure, but they are obviously still trying to figure it out...once again this is just a theory

    November 9, 2011 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Kim S

    I think that this data should be ignored because this research can't say that this information is true because the people who ran this study researched a group of 13 autistic boys. For this information to be the slightest bit conclusive, GIRLS ALSO NEEDED TO BE IN THIS STUDY!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am a woman with Aspergers Syndrome (a form of high-functioning autism) and this article caught my attention. Upon reading this information, I make a request for this information to be removed from CNN.com, due to the fact that this research is inconclusive. Also, Tom G, the reason why there are more people diagnosed with Autism now a days is that doctors know more about the subject now than they did in 1985. The doctor who put his information out on the whole vaccines cause Autism even came out and told the world that he lied. Not trying to be rude, but you need to learn more about the people who put information out about Autism causes and cures. Going onto a Gluten-free Casein-free diet is not a cure to Autism. Please do research on the subject if this response interests you at all.

    November 9, 2011 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SPJ

      Kim, this is a news article updating an ongoing research direction. Research is a process, and it would be a much worse offense if the news never reported ongoing research until it has reached an ultimate conclusion. If this were the case, the public would never hear a word about cancer (because all causes aren't known and there is not one definitive cure) or AIDS (because we can just extend life and not completely erase the virus) or malaria, or antibiotics, etc etc etc. To ask that cnn only publish news about completely and totally cured diseases and research studies that included each and every patient group possible with conclusive results that point in one single proven direction... would mean there would be no Health section in CNN at all.

      November 10, 2011 at 09:34 | Report abuse |
    • Kim S

      SPJ, I am not asking for the report to only to be about "cures". I am asking for the whole story to be looked at before a study is published. This information is just not accurite. They scientists who ran this study needed a larger sample rate and they needed a control of non-disabled children. They scientist have goofed up on the scientific method and my point is to have the study redone, but to use the scientific method throughout the study. Because of my Asperger's, this subject is very close to me. I am ust wanting justice to be done to the research by the correct method being used.

      November 10, 2011 at 11:50 | Report abuse |
    • bepatienz

      Kim, the researchers did not choose to use only a very small sample size. These samples came from children with ASD who died and then had their bodies donated to science by their parents, who apparently are hopeful that their loss will help researchers like Courchesne determine the cause of ASD. Few grieving parents make that choice. If more samples become available, more of this essential work will be done.

      So far, this is what is known: the brains of the only individuals with ASD that have been studied in this meticulous way show that they have more neurons than do typically-developing kids, and that points to prenatal processes.

      Courchesne and coworkers also studied gene expression in these same samples. They found dysregulation of the pathways that govern cell proliferation, repair of DNA damage, and neural patterning.

      November 10, 2011 at 19:36 | Report abuse |
  34. S

    The randomness indicates multiple factors of risk like genes, food, parents' health, medications, lifestyle, environment etc. could be at play rather than a single cause. The increase in absolute number of cases is similarly likely due to combination of better diagnosis of symptoms, more births with the condition, and reduction in infant mortality. The focus of any (medical ) research is never to assume and search for a single cause or effect or solution – it is to narrow down the possibilities as much as possible (great if it is indeed 1) to understand it better so strategies of diagnosis, treatment, prevention and eradication can be better developed and coordinated to increase the odds of successful intervention. With advances in (computing and bio-) technology, a single factor cause is actually relatively easier or faster to isolate and detect than multiple factors. Let's hope this one is cracked sooner than later – my bet is it is more likely that someone with the condition is in fact going to find the reason and possibly cure.

    November 9, 2011 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Barrett

      The scientific process as defined by Isaac Newton says that we always look for the minimum cause for a given result. Therefore, the assumption is to find a single cause for a single effect and we only expand when it can be shown that no one cause can create the given effect. This "narrowing" down thing you talk about is not science, it is trial and error.

      November 10, 2011 at 11:24 | Report abuse |
  35. Jane Moffatt

    Why do you think it might be the thimersol in the vaccines. Why not consider retroviruses. We know for a fact that retroviruses played a part in people becoming ill from vaccines in the 1920s nd 30s in California. Nurses in a hospital were paid off.

    I think if scientists are having trouble finding the retrovirus causing cfs/me then who is to say that there is no retrovirus in some batches of vaccines in the past? If they can't find the ones that they know are there then how can they be so sure there is no retrovirus in the vaccines. What do they think is holding down immune systems so that bacteria and viruses can settle in the bodies and cause havock as happens with HIV? It is possible that the retroviruses were already existing latent in the body and got turned on with the wild immune response caused by the vaccine. or they could have been introduced in the vaccines.

    November 9, 2011 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Barrett

      Studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. You are making guesses based on a link that has been shown to be non-existent.

      November 10, 2011 at 11:26 | Report abuse |
  36. dad needs help

    Does Stem Cell Treatment help with autism, We have a 3.5 yr daughter diagnosed with autism and considering the stem cell treatment, any parent or article with further info would be great.

    November 10, 2011 at 05:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Chris

    I'd be interested in seeing a study about men/women taking anti-depressant medication before and during pregnancy to see if there is a correlation.

    November 10, 2011 at 05:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      Its use has been up 400% in the past 20 years... and autism has been 'on the rise'. Just curious if there's a study out there.

      November 10, 2011 at 06:00 | Report abuse |
    • dad needs help

      my wife was never on any type of medication during or before pregnancy, so i dont think taking medication alone has any major role for the cause of autism.

      November 10, 2011 at 06:22 | Report abuse |
  38. Jane Moffatt

    The immune systems of people with autism and cfs/me are very similar. they both struggle with virus and bacteria, yeast infections, etc. One researcher suggested that if the retrovirus is activated very young then the result is autism and if activated later in life it is cfs/me. The population with cfs/me is estimated to be growing by 25% every five years. It would be interesting to know if that is similar to the increase is autism population.

    November 10, 2011 at 07:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Sy2502

    LOL, why do the scientists even bother? There's a large segment of the population that will not, and will never, accept the facts, only their beliefs. They could explain step by step exactly how autism develops and there will still be ignorants who believe it's vaccines. The problem isn't so much the too many neurons in the kids' brains, but the too few neurons in some parents' brains.

    November 10, 2011 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Julie

    I have 3 sons that have been diagnosed with autism. The oldest of the three is in his twenties. As a mother of these children, I and other family members have read and watched practically everything that has the word "autism" in it for almost twenty years. This is the first article I have ever read that make sense to me regarding any type of cause. I can understand with more clarity why they do some of the things that they do. It also makes more sense to me why some of the things we've tried, that we have felt would help them, have not worked.

    I believe that this study may finally open doors that have been closed. I'm hoping that it will continue to do so, and that more information will become available. My thanks goes out to those who have sacrificed, so that some of these questions about autism may finally have answers.

    November 10, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sara

      That is so true! I just knew my daughter wasn't the same as my first two children almost from the start (sleep patterns, sensory stuff, tolerance to stimuli). We have tried various suggestions with little overall change. She improves the most with a tremendous amount of patient, one on one guidance. The research is so vital to future children and anyone who has a child with autism who doesn't understand this obviously hasn't asked themselves "What if I had known how to prevent my child's issues?". The suggestion presented here gives a direction to continue studying, nothing more. If they can better determine where it all went wrong, maybe prevention can become a cure for the future.

      November 10, 2011 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
  41. Trainer

    Vaccines have been given for years and now they get the finger pointed at them. It sounds like medical politics to me.
    What seems to make sense in my opinion is...has any researcher studied the difference in diet and excersise in parents of autistic children? Most of the food in the grocery store will cause some sort of illness down the road due to pesticides, man-made oils, removal of essential fats from meat and milk, white eggs, I would be here all day but the point is, our lack of true nutritional knowledge is literally killing us. Fast food and sodas are killing us, microwaved foods are killing us, (it kills the vitimins in food) leaving us with almost nothing but calories. Low fat, low cholesterol, if you remove the natural fat and cholesterol you have to replace it with something and that is what they need to look at. Hydrogenated oils, triglycerides, things our bodies don't know what to do with, every cell in the human body needs protien, especially the brain and you can only get it from real food. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, butter, milk, olive oil, nuts and grains, farm fresh veggies and fruits. That's what we can digest, that's what our body needs, it leaves us about 20% of what's in the market the other 70%-80% is killing us, besides fast food but we should all know about that by now.

    November 10, 2011 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. 711

    There was another article on CNN where the author talked about how people have aversions to different foods. As I read through readers comments people mentioned all kinds of foods that they found disgusting and would not eat. I know that some people eat a large variety of foods while other stay within a narrow range. This got me thinking about vitamins and minerals. I wonder if women who have autistic children are chronically deficient in some vitamins and/or minerals because of an inadequate diet?

    Plants do not make minerals, they are absorbed them from the soil. I have read that our soil is mineral deficient and artificial fertilizers are added. When you eat vegetables/fruit you have no idea how much, if any, minerals/vitamins are in the food? Maybe autism is caused by a chronic deficiency in magnesium, copper etc. As the fetus grows the lack of one mineral or vitamin might cause the disorder. We are told to stay out of the sun for risk of skin cancer, is that healthy? Might that cause autism? The cause might be something simple and not as complex as people think. Look at cervical cancer, it is caused by the human paploma virus. One virus out of thousands. One mineral out of many. Just a thought.

    November 10, 2011 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. trololol

    Wonder if it has anything to do with formula feeding of infants?

    November 10, 2011 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Irene Ramirez

      I don't think so. I solely breast fed my son for three years. He has autism but he's as strong as an ox! 🙂

      December 27, 2011 at 19:07 | Report abuse |
  44. Beefburger

    STFU "Portland tony" u poser.

    November 11, 2011 at 01:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Beefburger

    Maybe evolution taking place in information-overlaod USA?

    November 11, 2011 at 01:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Jake459

    Hopefully there will be a prenatal test for this someday, like for Down's Syndrome.

    November 14, 2011 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Jerv

    Why does it seem like everybody thinks Autism is /always/ a bad thing?

    Granted, it is bad for those that are severely afflicted to the point that they cannot function in society or live without constant supervision, but there are also those like myself and Dr Temple Grandin that don't really suffer much aside from the societal pressures on us to "act normal".

    Just out of curiosity, when are we going to come up with a cure for red hair?

    November 14, 2011 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Imran

    My 4 years old son has autism symptoms. He has not been formally diagnosed yet. My wife had a very difficult first trimester and she become iron deficient. so she had to take iron tablets after 14th week. My son is very intelligent in many ways. he can count up to 20. He can memorise any rhyme easily. He recognises all English/Arabic alphabets and numbers. He does not ask WHY and HOW questions. but he has learnt to ask what and where questions. You can not engage him in two way conversation for long time. we have been seeing very slow progress in his communication skills but his progress is very patchy. he has big head size like me :). He likes cars

    November 28, 2011 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Cora's Mom

    I read a study a few years ago explaining that trauma and/or stress during the last trimester of pregnancy doubles the risk of autism. The study speculated on the stress hormones released may affect the child's development during pregnancy.. I was under my maximum threshold of stress during my autistic daughter's pregnancy. Autistic children are hyper sensitive to their environment. In the wild, hypersensitivity is key to survival. For example a herd needs to flee quickly in danger. So my question is... is this an evolutionary survival trait? Do the stress hormones signal the body to retain the neurons that should be reabsorbed into the body to remain, as a survival misfire?

    December 26, 2011 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Catherine

    Had I listened to neurologists 10 years ago - who were so certain that my son would never talk, etc - then it's likely that my talking son would not be talking today. Most (nearly all) of what neurologists and other scientists were absolutely certain they knew about the brain has been disproven in the last5-10 years. Yet these particular scientists are so sure, for example, that certain neurons grow only prior to birth? They seem to have not learned from prior mistakes - and/or they continue to serve certain only certain corporations and not humanity.

    December 26, 2011 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
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