Ultrasound at birth predicts autism risk
Recent studies led by researchers at Michigan State University show that cerebral ultrasound can predict the risk of new-born to develop autism. It seems that low-birth weight babies with a specific brain abnormality have an increased risk of developing autism. Autism is a developmental disorder which is characterized by a behavioural and social impairment, observed in the first three years of life. Children with autism do not interact with others, have repetitive behaviors, strange gestures and weird reactions to certain stimuli. Mental retardation may be present but some have an IQ above average.
It is not clear what causes autism, but there are several assumptions in this regard. Some believe that this disorder is due to an imbalance between neurotransmitters in the brain (serotonin and dopamine) or due to a lack of neuronal migration during embryogenesis. Others believe that autism occurs because of stress experienced by the mother during pregnancy or due to exposure to certain toxic. However, multiple causes may contribute together to the development of this disorder.
Lead author Tammy Movsas, clinical assistant professor of Pediatrics at MSU and medical director of the Midland County Department of Public Health, said that there has been much controversy regarding the causes of autism. It is unclear whether the disease is triggered by postnatal vaccination or by environmental factors or if it already exists at birth. Now, recent studies have shown that some low-birth weight babies have enlarged ventricles and that this increases 7 times the risk of developing autism. “What this study shows us is that an ultrasound scan within the first few days of life may already be able to detect brain abnormalities that indicate a higher risk of developing autism,” Movsas said.
In the study 1105 cases were evaluated with the use of cranial ultrasound after birth. The same patients were screened for autism after 16 years and 21 years and it was found that 14 of them developed autism. Movsas said the study shows that ultrasound done in the first few days after birth to identify brain abnormalities may indicate risk of autism. Ventricles are cavities in the brain where cerebrospinal fluid is formed; enlarged ventricles damage the white matter in the brain. Co-author Nigel Paneth, MSU epidemiologist, said the study provides an important key to understanding brain abnormalities in autism. However, he added that more studies must be done to elucidate the mechanisms by which loss of white matter leads to autism.