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Neuropathological and Neurochemical Analysis of Key Speech and Language Areas in Autism

Autism is characterized by children and adults with a variety of speech and language impairments. Brain imaging studies have found that there is a different pattern of activation of speech and language regions in the brains of those with autism compared to normal controls in a variety of tasks. Despite an abundance of structural and functional MRI findings, there is a lack of information regarding the neurobiological basis of these changes, i.e., characterizing the specific cellular and neurochemical changes that may contribute to alterations in cortical activation of speech and language areas in autism. The grant focused on a novel study investigating critical speech and language areas in autistic brains, Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area in the frontal and temporal lobes respectively compared to adult age-matched controls. This investigation was designed to detect specific alterations in the density and distribution of key neuronal and glial types and in the neurotransmitter receptor subtypes within the layered cortical areas. In this way, the investigator could identify some of the core neurobiological substrates that may in part underlie the changes in language and social communication in autism. The hope is that this work may guide geneticists toward finding autism genes and may guide the development of novel drug treatments. The investigator also hoped to determine via detection of activated glia cells whether autism is a static process or a dynamic process in the brain. The hope was that this part of the study may lead the investigator to identify the most vulnerable regions within selected brain areas and may lead to a greater understanding of ongoing cellular changes and their etiology.