Researchers from New York University (NYU) have discovered evidence of autism in the structure and impairments of blood vessels in the brain.

The study, titled “Persistent Angiogenesis in the Autism Brain: An Immunocytochemical Study of Postmortem Cortex, Brainstem and Cerebellum”, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“Our findings show that those afflicted with autism have unstable blood vessels, disrupting proper delivery of blood to the brain,” says Efrain Azmitia, Professor of NYU’s Department of Biology and the study’s senior author.

Co-authors include Zachary Saccomano, a graduate of NYU; Mohammed AlzooBaee, an NYU undergraduate student; Maura Boldrini, a research scientist from the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University; and Patricia Whitaker-Azmitia, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University.

The researchers analysed post-mortem human brain tissue, using a control of ‘normal’ brains as well as a number which had been granted the autism diagnosis, though none of the scientists were aware of which sample was which.

“In a typical brain, blood vessels are stable, thereby ensuring a stable distribution of blood,” explains Azmitia. “Whereas in the autism brain, the cellular structure of blood vessels continually fluctuates, which results in circulation that is fluctuating and, ultimately, neurologically limiting.”

The scientists found that angiogenesis, or the creation of new blood vessels, occurred in the autistic brain tissue but not in the normal sample. This suggests that the autistic brain is repeatedly producing blood vessels, with constant fluctuations that cause instability in blood flow to the brain.

They also found the autistic brains to contain greater levels of nestin and CD34- proteins that control the angiogenesis process- compared to the typical brains.

“It’s clear that there are changes in brain vascularisation in autistic individuals from two to 20 years that are not seen in normally developing individuals past the age of two years,” concludes Azmitia. “Now that we know this, we have new ways of looking at the disorder and, hopefully with this new knowledge, novel and more effective ways to address it.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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