Study suggests enlarged brains in children increase autism risk

Link Between Brain Size and Autism Risk Unveiled by Groundbreaking Study

For the first time, researchers from the University of North Carolina’s school of medicine have uncovered a significant connection between a child’s brain size and composition and their likelihood of developing autism later in life.

This groundbreaking study sheds light on the relationship between brain abnormalities and autism risk, offering potential insights for early diagnosis.

Perivascular Spaces and Autism Risk:

The study focused on infants with a family history of autism, revealing that those with an unusually enlarged part of their brain had a 2.2 times greater chance of being diagnosed with autism compared to infants with normal-sized brains.

The enlarged spaces, known as perivascular spaces (PVS), play a crucial role in regulating fluid movement in the central nervous system.
The research suggests that these spaces could serve as an early marker for autism.

Cerebrospinal Fluid and Neurological Impact:

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which flows through perivascular spaces, is essential for the brain’s protection, nourishment, and waste removal.

Any disruption to this process can lead to neurological dysfunction, cognitive decline, or developmental delays.

The study indicates that children with enlarged PVS face a higher risk of autism diagnosis by the age of two.

Long-term Effects on Sleep and Development:

The research also delved into the long-term effects of enlarged PVS, revealing an association with sleep problems seven to ten years after autism diagnosis.

The study involved analyzing the brains of 311 infants, tracking changes from six to 24 months of age.

The results showed that 30% of infants who later developed autism had enlarged PVS by 12 months, and nearly half had them at 24 months.

CSF Dynamics and Sleep Disturbances:

The study explored the relationship between CSF volume, PVS, and sleep issues in childhood.

The brain’s CSF cleanup process, crucial for removing harmful proteins, is particularly efficient during sleep.

Disrupted sleep reduces CSF clearance, enlarging or distorting the perivascular spaces.

Children with enlarged PVS at two years old showed higher rates of sleep disturbances between seven and 12 years old, emphasizing the long-term impact of these early brain abnormalities.

Implications for Early Autism Detection:

Autism is notoriously challenging to diagnose, often occurring around the age of five.

This study’s findings suggest that monitoring perivascular spaces and CSF dynamics in the first years of life could provide valuable insights into early autism detection.

The research underscores the importance of understanding the role of brain development in the context of autism risk.


In conclusion, this groundbreaking study reveals a novel link between brain size, perivascular spaces, and autism risk.

Understanding these connections may pave the way for early interventions and improved diagnostic methods for children at risk of developing autism.

The study highlights the need for ongoing monitoring of brain development in the early years of life to better understand and address neurodevelopmental disorders.

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