Researchers Say Brain ‘Overgrowth’ Could Contribute to Autism Development

Researchers have always been stumped by why some kids with autism experience symptoms such as an inability to speak, social struggles, and developmental delay, while the milder symptoms of other individuals diagnosed with autism actually improve over time.

Now, new research has determined that severe autism may be associated with overgrowth in the brain’s outer layer during the gestation period.

For their research, investigators obtained blood stem cells from 10 children aged between one year of age and four years of age. Their objective was to develop 3D models of each child’s cortexes using lab cell cultures. Once this was done, they compared these models to brain cortical organoids of children without autism.

The investigators observed that the models of all children with autism grew about three times faster than those of children without the developmental disorder. They also observed that some of the biggest models, those of children with severe autism, also experienced quicker neuron formation.

In short, the more severe a child’s autism was, the faster their model grew, sometimes to a point where too many neurons developed. In addition, the investigators discovered that the size of a child’s cortical organoid grown in the laboratory was comparable to a bigger brain structure viewed on scans.

Alysson Muotri, a researcher and UC-San Diego’s director of the stem cell program, stated that the whole assumption that having a bigger brain was better wasn’t true. In their report, the researchers explained that infants with autism had cerebral cortexes that were almost 40% bigger than toddlers without the disorder.

The cerebral cortex is the brain’s outer layer and is often called gray matter. It’s responsible for important functions such as thinking, consciousness, memory, learning, reasoning, senses and emotions. It holds tens of billions of nerve cells. Additionally, the scientists determined that the bigger the gray matter size in a child, the more severe their language and social symptoms were as they grew.

As per UC-San Diego’s Eric Courchesne, this research is one of a kind because it is the first to associate symptoms of autism to a laboratory-created model of brain development. Courchesne is codirector at the institution’s Autism Center of Excellence. He explained that at its core, autism’s symptoms were related to communication and social affective issues. To help with this, researchers needed to know more about the underlying causes of these issues when they began.

Now that the investigators have determined that brain overgrowth begins in the womb, they are now focused on finding out why it happens. The research’s findings were published in the “Molecular Autism” journal.

As more such studies uncover the mechanisms through which autism spectrum disorder develops, it will give companies such as PaxMedica Inc. (OTC: PXMD) additional scientific data to work with in their efforts to develop future treatments against this condition, whose incidence is rising at concerning rates.

NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to PaxMedica Inc. (OTC: PXMD) are available in the company’s newsroom at

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