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Persistence of megalencephaly in a subgroup of young boys with autism spectrum disorder.

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A recurring finding in autism spectrum disorder research is that head and brain growth is disproportionate to body growth in early childhood. Nordahl et al. (2011) demonstrated that this occurs in approximately 15% of boys with autism. While the literature suggests that brain growth normalizes at older ages, this has never been evaluated in a longitudinal study. The current study evaluated head circumference and total cerebral volume in 129 male children with autism and 49 age-matched, typically developing controls. We determined whether 3-year-old boys with brain size disproportionate to height (which we call disproportionate megalencephaly) demonstrated an abnormal trajectory of head growth from birth and whether they maintained an enlarged brain at 5 years of age. Findings were based on longitudinal, structural MRI data collected around 3, 4, and 5 years of age and head circumference data from medical records. At 3 years of age, 19 boys with autism had enlarged brains while 110 had brain sizes in the normal range. Boys with disproportionate megalencephaly had greater total cerebral, gray matter, and white matter volumes from 3-5 years compared to boys with autism and normal sized brains and typically developing boys, but no differences in body size. While head circumference did not differ between groups at birth, it was significantly greater in the disproportionate megalencephaly group by around 2 years. These data suggest that there is a subgroup of boys with autism who have brains disproportionate to body size and that this continues until at least 5 years of age. Autism Res 2016, 9: 1169-1182. © 2016 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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