Contributions of Neuropathology and Animal Models to Understanding Autism

Autism BrainNet Node Director Patrick Hof and colleagues present an overview of current findings in neuropathology studies of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) using two investigational approaches, postmortem human brains and ASD animal models, and discuss the overlap, limitations, and significance of each. Postmortem examination of ASD brains has revealed global changes including disorganized gray and white matter, increased number of neurons, decreased volume of neuronal soma, and increased neuropil, the last reflecting changes in densities of dendritic spines, cerebral vasculature and glia. Both cortical and non-cortical areas show region-specific abnormalities in neuronal morphology and cytoarchitectural organization, with consistent findings reported from the prefrontal cortex, fusiform gyrus, frontoinsular cortex, cingulate cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, cerebellum and brainstem. The paucity of postmortem human studies linking neuropathology to the underlying etiology has been partly addressed using animal models to explore the impact of genetic and non-genetic factors clinically relevant for the ASD phenotype. The full paper can be accessed here.