Skip to main content Accessibility help

Women with autistic-spectrum disorder: magnetic resonance imaging study of brain anatomy

  • Michaelc. Craig (a1), Shahid H. Zaman (a1), Eileen M. Daly (a1), William J. Cutter (a1), Dene M. W. Robertson (a1), Brian Hallahan (a1), Fiona Toal (a1), Suzie Reed (a1), Anita Ambikapathy (a1), Mick Brammer (a1), Clodagh M. Murphy (a1) and Declan G. M. Murphy (a1)...



Our understanding of anatomical differences in people with autistic-spectrum disorder, is based on mixed-gender or male samples.


To study regional grey-matter and white-matter differences in the brains of women with autistic-spectrum disorder.


We compared the brain anatomy of 14 adult women with autistic-spectrum disorder with 19 controls using volumetric magnetic resonance imaging and voxel-based morphometry Results Women with autistic-spectrum disorder had a smaller density bilaterally of grey matter in the frontotemporal cortices and limbic system, and of white matter in the temporal lobes (anterior) and pons. In contrast, they had a larger white-matter density bilaterally in regions of the association and projection fibres of the frontal, parietal, posterior temporal and occipital lobes, in the commissural fibres of the corpus callosum (splenium) and cerebellum (anterior lobe). Further, we found a negative relationship between reduced grey-matter density in right limbic regions and social communication ability.


Women with autistic-spectrum disorder have significant differences in brain anatomy from controls, in brain regions previously reported as abnormal in adult men with the disorder. Some anatomical differences may be related to clinical symptoms.


Corresponding author

Dr Michael Craig, PO Box 50, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK. Tel: +44 (0)20 7848 0364; fax: +44 (0)20 7848 0650; email:


Hide All

Declaration of interest




Hide All
Abell, F., Krams, M., Ashburner, J., et al (1999) The neuroanatomy of autism: a voxel-based whole brain analysis of structural scans. NeuroReport, 10, 16471651.
Asperger, H. (1944) Die ‘Autistischen Psychopathen’ im Kindesalter. Archive fur Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 117, 76136 (reprinted in Frith, U. (1991) Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Cambridge University Press).
Bachevalier, J. & Merjanian, P. M. (1994) The contribution of medial temporal lobe structures in infantile autism: a neurobehavioural study in primates. In The Neurobiology of Autism (eds Bauman, M. L. & Kemper, T. L.), pp. 146169. Johns Hopkins Press.
Badcock, C. & Crespi, B. (2006) Imbalanced genomic imprinting in brain development: an evolutionary basis for the aetiology of autism. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 19, 10071032.
Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., et al (2006) Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP). Lancet, 368, 210215.
Baron-Cohen, S. (2002) The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 248254.
Baron-Cohen, S., Knickmeyer, R. C. & Belmonte, M. K. (2005) Sex differences in the brain: implications for explaining autism. Science, 310, 819823.
Bullmore, E. T. S., Suckling, J., Overmeyer, S., et al (1999) Global, voxel and cluster tests, by theory and permutation, for a difference between two groups of structural MR images of the brain. IEEE Transactions in Medical Imaging, 18, 3242.
Canavan, A. G. & Beckmann, J. (1993) Deriving principal component IQ scores from the WAIS–R. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 32, 8186.
Carper, R. A. & Courchesne, E. (2000) Inverse correlation between frontal lobe and cerebellum sizes in children with autism. Brain, 123, 836844.
Ciesielski, K. T., Harris, R. J., Hart, B. L., et al (1997) Cerebellar hypoplasia and frontal lobe cognitive deficits in disorders of early childhood. Neuropsychologia, 35, 643655.
Courchesne, E., Karns, C. M., Davis, H. R., et al (2001) Unusual brain growth patterns in early life in patients with autistic disorder: an MRI study. Neurology, 57, 245254.
Giedd, J. N., Castellanos, F. X., Rajapakse, J. C., et al (1997) Sexual dimorphism of the developing human brain. Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 21, 11851201.
Giedd, J. N., Blumenthal, J., Jeffries, N. O., et al (1999) Brain development during childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal MRI study. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 861863.
Gillberg, C. & Coleman, M. (2000) The Biology of the Autistic Syndromes (3rd edn). Cambridge University Press.
Gogtay, N., Giedd, J. N., Lusk, L., et al (2004) Dynamic mapping of human cortical development during childhood through early adulthood. Proceedings of the Nationall Academy of Sciences of the USA, 101, 81748179.
Good, C. D., Johnsrude, I. S., Ashburner, J., et al (2001) A voxel-based morphometric study of ageing in 465 normal adult human brains. NeuroImage, 14, 2136.
Gur, R. C., Gunning-Dixon, F. M., Turetsky, B. I., et al (2002) Brainregion and sex differences in age association with brain volume: a quantitative MRI study of healthy young adults. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 10, 7280.
Hayasaka, S. & Nichols, T. E. (2003) Validating cluster size inference: random field and permutation methods. NeuroImage, 20, 23432356.
Levitt, J. G., Blanton, R., Capetillo-Cunliffe, L., et al (1999) Cerebellar vermis lobules VIII-X in autism. Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 23, 625633.
Lord, C., Schopler, E. & Revicki, D. (1982) Sex differences in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 12, 317330.
Lord, C., Rutter, M., Goode, S., et al (1989) Autism diagnostic observation schedule: a standardized observation of communicative and social behavior. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19, 185212.
Lord, C., Rutter, M. & Le Couteur, A. (1994) Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised: a revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 659685.
McAlonan, G. M., Daly, E., Kumari, V., et al (2002) Brain anatomy and sensorimotor gating in Asperger's syndrome. Brain, 125, 15941606.
McLennan, J. D., Lord, C. & Schopler, E. (1993) Sex differences in higher functioning people with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 217227.
Murphy, D. G., DeCarli, C., McIntosh, A. R., et al (1996) Sex differences in human brain morphometry and metabolism: an in vivo quantitative magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography study on the effect of aging. Archives of General Psychiatry, 53, 585594.
Palmen, S. J. M. C., van Engeland, H., Hof, P. R., et al (2004) Neuropathological findings in autism. Brain, 127, 25722583.
Rudebeck, P. H., Buckley, M. J., Walton, M. E., et al (2006) A role for the macaque anterior cingulate gyrus in social valuation. Science, 313, 13101312.
Sigmundsson, T., Suckling, J., Maier, M., et al (2001) Structural abnormalities in frontal, temporal, and limbic regions and interconnecting white matter tracts in schizophrenic patients with prominent negative symptoms. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 234243.
Stone, V. E., Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., et al (2002) Selective impairment of reasoning about social exchange in a patient with bilateral limbic system damage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 99, 1153111536.
Thirion, B., Pinel, P., Meriaux, S., et al (2007) Analysis of a large FMRI cohort: statistical and methodological issues for group analyses. NeuroImage, 35, 105120.
Toal, F., Murphy, D. G. M. & Murphy, K. C. (2005) Autistic-spectrum disorders: lessons from neuroimaging. British Journal of Psychiatry, 187, 395397.
World Health Organization (1992) International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD–10). WHO.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Craig et al. supplementary material
Supplementary Figure S1-S2

 PDF (612 KB)
612 KB
Supplementary materials

Craig et al. supplementary material
Supplementary Material

 Unknown (472 bytes)
472 bytes


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

Women with autistic-spectrum disorder: magnetic resonance imaging study of brain anatomy

  • Michaelc. Craig (a1), Shahid H. Zaman (a1), Eileen M. Daly (a1), William J. Cutter (a1), Dene M. W. Robertson (a1), Brian Hallahan (a1), Fiona Toal (a1), Suzie Reed (a1), Anita Ambikapathy (a1), Mick Brammer (a1), Clodagh M. Murphy (a1) and Declan G. M. Murphy (a1)...
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *