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The autistic spectrum covers a range of neuro-developmental disorders (typical autism, Asperger's syndrome or pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified) which mainly affect social relationships and communication. These disorders are associated with abnormal development of the brain. Recent neuroimaging findings have notably suggested the existence of abnormal cortical folding (the formation of convolutions on the surface of the brain). However, standard neuro-anatomical measurement techniques had failed until now to demonstrate any markers specific to each of these disorders, and notably typical autism.

Scientists at the Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone (in Marseille, France) focused on a new geometric marker called the "sulcal pit." This is the deepest point of each sulcus in the cerebral cortex, from which points all the folds on the brain's surface develop. They are therefore put in place at a very early developmental stage, probably under genetic influences, which means they are indicators adapted to comparisons between different individuals.

Based on MRI findings, the scientists observed the sulcal pits of 102 young boys aged 2 to 10 years, who were placed in three groups (those with autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, and typically developing children). By comparing these three groups, they discovered that in Broca's area (a region known to be involved in language and communication), the maximum depth of a sulcus was less among autistic children when compared with the other two groups. Interestingly, this highly localized atrophy was correlated with the social communication performance of children in the autistic group: the deeper the sulcal pits, the more impaired were their skills in terms of language production.

Read More: Sciencedaily

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