The amygdala is a medial temporal lobe structure implicated in social and emotional regulation. In typical development (TD), the amygdala continues to increase volumetrically throughout childhood and into adulthood, while other brain structures are stable or decreasing in volume. In autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the amygdala undergoes rapid early growth, making it volumetrically larger in children with ASD compared to TD children. Here we explore: (a) if dendritic arborization in the amygdala follows the pattern of protracted growth in TD and early overgrowth in ASD and (b), if spine density in the amygdala in ASD cases differs from TD from youth to adulthood. The amygdala from 32 postmortem human brains (7-46 years of age) were stained using a Golgi-Kopsch impregnation. Ten principal neurons per case were selected in the lateral nucleus and traced using Neurolucida software in their entirety. We found that both ASD and TD individuals show a similar pattern of increasing dendritic length with age well into adulthood. However, spine density is (a) greater in young ASD cases compared to age-matched TD controls (<18 years old) and (b) decreases in the amygdala as people with ASD age into adulthood, a phenomenon not found in TD. Therefore, by adulthood, there is no observable difference in spine density in the amygdala between ASD and TD age-matched adults (≥18 years old). Our findings highlight the unique growth trajectory of the amygdala and suggest that spine density may contribute to aberrant development and function of the amygdala in children with ASD.
- Autism spectrum disorder
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