MRI Study of Minor Physical Anomaly in Childhood Autism Implicates Aberrant Neurodevelopment in InfancyReport as inadecuate

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MPAs minor physical anomalies frequently occur in neurodevelopmental disorders because both face and brain are derived from neuroectoderm in the first trimester. Conventionally, MPAs are measured by evaluation of external appearance. Using MRI can help overcome inherent observer bias, facilitate multi-centre data acquisition, and explore how MPAs relate to brain dysmorphology in the same individual. Optical MPAs exhibit a tightly synchronized trajectory through fetal, postnatal and adult life. As head size enlarges with age, inter-orbital distance increases, and is mostly completed before age 3 years. We hypothesized that optical MPAs might afford a retrospective ‘window’ to early neurodevelopment; specifically, inter-orbital distance increase may represent a biomarker for early brain dysmaturation in autism.


We recruited 91 children aged 7–16; 36 with an autism spectrum disorder and 55 age- and gender-matched typically developing controls. All children had normal IQ. Inter-orbital distance was measured on T1-weighted MRI scans. This value was entered into a voxel-by-voxel linear regression analysis with grey matter segmented from a bimodal MRI data-set. Age and total brain tissue volume were entered as covariates.


Intra-class coefficient for measurement of the inter-orbital distance was 0.95. Inter-orbital distance was significantly increased in the autism group p = 0.03, 2-tailed. The autism group showed a significant relationship between inter-orbital distance grey matter volume of bilateral amygdalae extending to the unci and inferior temporal poles.


Greater inter-orbital distance in the autism group compared with healthy controls is consistent with infant head size expansion in autism. Inter-orbital distance positively correlated with volume of medial temporal lobe structures, suggesting a link to -social brain- dysmorphology in the autism group. We suggest these data support the role of optical MPAs as a -fossil record- of early aberrant neurodevelopment, and potential biomarker for brain dysmaturation in autism.

Author: Charlton Cheung, Grainne M. McAlonan , Yee Y. Fung, Germaine Fung, Kevin K. Yu, Kin-Shing Tai, Pak C. Sham, Siew E. Chua



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