written by Martha Herbert, PhD, MD
This excerpt from Dr. Herbert’s blog is shared with her permission. Read the full post on her blog.
The recent New England Journal of Medicine paper by Stoner and colleagues, “Patches of disorganization in the neocortex of children with autism.” N Engl J Med 370(13): 1209-1219, made several important contributions to studies of postmortem tissue samples from the brains of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). First, the average age was much younger than the average age in previous studies. Second, many important and technologically sophisticated measures were made. Finally, as a result of this work, a broadly distributed pattern of brain tissue abnormalities was identified that had not been described on this scale before—namely, patches of disorganization in many areas of the neocortex (the outer layer of gray matter in the brain), though not the same from one person to the next.
The new observation of disorganized patches by itself is very important. It poses an important challenge: how do we figure out what it means? To do that, we need to understand the data, and also to examine the interpretations and consider alternative possibilities.