Background. To establish whether high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have enlarged brains in later childhood, and if so, whether this enlargement is confined to the gray and/or to the white matter and whether it is global or more prominent in specific brain regions.
Method. Brain MRI scans were acquired from 21 medication-naive, high-functioning children with ASD between 7 and 15 years of age and 21 comparison subjects matched for gender, age, IQ, height, weight, handedness, and parental education, but not pubertal status.
Results. Patients showed a significant increase of 6% in intracranium, total brain, cerebral gray matter, cerebellum, and of more than 40% in lateral and third ventricles compared to controls. The cortical gray-matter volume was evenly affected in all lobes. After correction for brain volume, ventricular volumes remained significantly larger in patients.
Conclusions. High-functioning children with ASD showed a global increase in gray-matter, but not white-matter and cerebellar volume, proportional to the increase in brain volume, and a disproportional increase in ventricular volumes, still present after correction for brain volume. Advanced pubertal development in the patients compared to the age-matched controls may have contributed to the findings reported in the present study.