MRIs show autism linked to increased cerebrospinal fluid

7th Mar 2017

Researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered that toddlers diagnosed with autism at two years old had a substantially greater amount of extra-axial cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) at age six months and twelve months. They also found that the more CSF at six months the more severe the autism symptoms were at two years of age.

Previous research has shown that the CSF is important for brain health, this study suggested that the fluid is not flowing properly. When brain cells communicate with each other, it causes cells to continuously secrete byproducts that must be filtered out. The CSF acts as a crucial filtration system for byproducts of brain metabolism. 

This prospective study involved 343 infants, of which 221 were at high risk of developing autism due to having an older sibling with the condition. All infants had MRI scans at age 6,12 and 24 months. The researchers found 47 of the infants were diagnosed with autism at 24 months. 

The six month olds who went on to develop autism had 18% more CSF than six month olds who did not go on to develop autism. This amount of CSF remained elevated at 12 and 24 months. Infants with the most severe autism symptoms had an even greater amount of CSF - 24% at six months.

The CSF predicted 70% accuracy which toddlers could be diagnosed with autism. In the future, CSF imaging could be another tool to help pediatricians detect risks for autism as early as possible. 

To read the full article, please visit Biological Psychiatry website.


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