Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects one in 66 children in Canada. The contributions of changes in the cortex and cerebellum to autism have been studied for decades. However, our understanding of brainstem contributions has only started to emerge more recently. Disruptions of sensory processing, startle response, sensory filtering, sensorimotor gating, multisensory integration and sleep are all features of ASD and are processes in which the brainstem is involved. In addition, preliminary research into brainstem contribution emphasizes the importance of the developmental timeline rather than just the mature brainstem. Therefore, the purpose of this systematic review is to compile histological, behavioral, neuroimaging, and electrophysiological evidence from human and animal studies about brainstem contributions and their functional implications in autism. Moreover, due to the developmental nature of autism, the review pays attention to the atypical brainstem development and compares findings based on age. Overall, there is evidence of an important role of brainstem disruptions in ASD, but there is still the need to examine the brainstem across the life span, from infancy to adulthood which could lead the way for early diagnosis and possibly treatment of ASD.
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