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PloS one

Stereological study of amygdala glial populations in adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder.


PMID 25330013

Abstract

The amygdala undergoes aberrant development in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We previously found that there are reduced neuron numbers in the adult postmortem amygdala from individuals with ASD compared to typically developing controls. The current study is a comprehensive stereological examination of four non-neuronal cell populations: microglia, oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, and endothelial cells, in the same brains studied previously. We provide a detailed neuroanatomical protocol for defining each cell type that may be applied to other studies of the amygdala in neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders. We then assess whether cell numbers and average volumes differ between ASD and typically developing brains. We hypothesized that a reduction in neuron numbers in ASD might relate to altered immune function and/or aberrant microglial activation, as indicated by increased microglial number and cell body volume. Overall, average non-neuronal cell numbers and volumes did not differ between ASD and typically developing brains. However, there was evident heterogeneity within the ASD cohort. Two of the eight ASD brains displayed strong microglial activation. Contrary to our original hypothesis, there was a trend toward a positive correlation between neuronal and microglial numbers in both ASD and control cases. There were fewer oligodendrocytes in the amygdala of adult individuals with ASD ages 20 and older compared to typically developing controls. This finding may provide a possible sign of altered connectivity or impaired neuronal communication that may change across the lifespan in ASD.