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A new study, led by Michigan State University found that low-birth-weight infants with enlarged ventricles, a brain abnormality diagnosed by ultrasound, were seven times more likely to develop autism later in life. Researchers analyzed data from 1,105 low-birth-weight infants born in the 1980s, examining information about the cranial ultrasound each baby received right after birth and whether or not each baby was later diagnosed with autism. Of the 1,105 babies, all were screened for autism at 16 years of age, and some were screened again at age 21. Fourteen participants ended up being diagnosed with autism, which led the researchers to realize that ventricular enlargement, which can indicate a loss of white matter in the brain, was found more often in premature babies who did later develop autism. As Nigel Paneth, an MSU epidemiologist who worked on the study points out, more research is needed, “To better understand what it is about loss of white matter that interferes with the neurological processes that determine autism [but] this is an important clue to the underlying brain issues in autism.” The study, appearing in the Journal of Pediatrics, may help clear up a few issues related to autism. For one thing, if the ultrasound could be fine tuned and understood properly, it could become a very early (and important) diagnostic tool for families. Secondly, if an ultrasound test can show that brain abnormalities responsible for autism do develop before birth, it could help eliminate debates surrounding suspected, yet not proven causes of autism like vaccines causing autism as well as environmental factors and chemicals causing autism.

+ Autism Spectrum Disorder Is Associated with Ventricular Enlargement in a Low Birth Weight Population