Minicolumnar abnormalities in autism
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Autism is characterized by qualitative abnormalities in behavior and higher order cognitive functions. Minicolumnar irregularities observed in autism provide a neurologically sound localization to observed clinical and anatomical abnormalities. This study corroborates the initial reports of a minicolumnopathy in autism within an independent sample. The patient population consisted of six age-matched pairs of patients (DSM-IV-TR and ADI-R diagnosed) and controls. Digital micrographs were taken from cortical areas S1, 4, 9, and 17. The image analysis produced estimates of minicolumnar width (CW), mean interneuronal distance, variability in CW (VCW), cross section of Nissl-stained somata, boundary length of stained somata per unit area, and the planar convexity. On average CW was 27.2 μm in controls and 25.7 μm in autistic patients (P = 0.0234). Mean neuron and nucleolar cross sections were found to be smaller in autistic cases compared to controls, while neuron density in autism exceeded the comparison group by 23%. Analysis of inter- and intracluster distances of a Delaunay triangulation suggests that the increased cell density is the result of a greater number of minicolumns, otherwise the number of cells per minicolumns appears normal. A reduction in both somatic and nucleolar cross sections could reflect a bias towards shorter connecting fibers, which favors local computation at the expense of inter-areal and callosal connectivity.