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Several prior reports have found that some young children with autism spectrum disorder [ASD; including autism and Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)] have a significant increase in head size and brain weight. However, the findings from older children and adults with ASD are inconsistent. This may reflect the relatively small sample sizes that were studied, clinical heterogeneity, or age-related brain differences.
Hence, we measured head size (intracranial volume), and the bulk volume of ventricular and peripheral cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), lobar brain, and cerebellum in 114 people with ASD and 60 controls aged between 18 and 58 years. The ASD sample included 80 people with Asperger's syndrome, 28 with autism and six with PDD-NOS.
There was no significant between-group difference in head and/or lobar brain matter volume. However, compared with controls, each ASD subgroup had a significantly smaller cerebellar volume, and a significantly larger volume of peripheral CSF.
Within ASD adults, the bulk volume of cerebellum is reduced irrespective of diagnostic subcategory. Also the significant increase in peripheral CSF may reflect differences in cortical maturation and/or ageing.
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