Increased Surface Area, but not Cortical Thickness, in a Subset of Young Boys With Autism Spectrum Disorder

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39 Scopus citations


The Autism Phenome Project is the largest, single site, longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Previous analyses from this cohort have shown that the children with autism have a total brain volume at time 1 (~3 years of age) that is 6% larger than typically developing (TD) children. This finding is driven primarily by 15% of the boys with ASD that have disproportionate megalencephaly (ASD-DM) or brain size that is 1.5 standard deviations above what would be expected for the child's height. In the current study, cerebral cortical grey matter volume, thickness, and surface area were assayed from MRI scans of 112, 3-year-old boys with ASD and 50 age-matched TD boys. The boys with ASD-DM (n=17) were analyzed separately from the boys with normal brain size (ASD-N, n=95). Previous studies of cortical thickness and surface area for ASD children in this age range have come to diametrically different conclusions concerning the significance of cortical thickness vs. surface area. Current analyses indicate that cortical thickness was comparable across the ASD and TD groups. However, surface area was significantly greater in the ASD group compared to the TD group. This result was driven largely by the children with ASD-DM. Even in the ASD-DM group, not all cortical regions demonstrated increased surface area. These results provide strong evidence that the early cortical overgrowth associated with ASD is due primarily to increased surface area and not to increased cortical thickness. Autism Res 2016, 9: 232-248.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-248
Number of pages17
JournalAutism Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Cortical thickness
  • FreeSurfer
  • Gray matter volume
  • Megalencephaly
  • Surface area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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