Brain anatomy and development in autism: Review of structural MRI studies

Paolo Brambilla, Antonio Hardan, Stefania Ucelli Di Nemi, Jorge Perez, Jair C. Soares, Francesco Barale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that severely disrupts social and cognitive functions. MRI is the method of choice for in vivo and non-invasively investigating human brain morphology in children and adolescents. The authors reviewed structural MRI studies that investigated structural brain anatomy and development in autistic patients. All original MRI research papers involving autistic patients, published from 1966 to May 2003, were reviewed in order to elucidate brain anatomy and development of autism and rated for completeness using a 12-item check-list. Increased total brain, parieto-temporal lobe, and cerebellar hemisphere volumes were the most replicated abnormalities in autism. Interestingly, recent findings suggested that the size of amygdala, hippocampus, and corpus callosum may also be abnormal. It is conceivable that abnormalities in neural network involving fronto-temporo-parietal cortex, limbic system, and cerebellum may underlie the pathophysiology of autism, and that such changes could result from abnormal brain development during early life. Nonetheless, available MRI studies were often conflicting and could have been limited by methodological issues. Future MRI investigations should include well-characterized groups of autistic and matched healthy individuals, while taking into consideration confounding factors such as IQ, and socioeconomic status.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-569
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Research Bulletin
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Oct 15 2003


  • Amygdala
  • Cerebellum
  • Corpus callosum
  • Hippocampus
  • Neuroimaging
  • Vermis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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