February 2011  << Back  

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The Neurochemical Basis of Autism: From Molecules to Minicolumns

James Wilcox, DO, PhD

Tucson, AZ, USA

Edited by Gene J. Blatt. New York, NY: Springer Science & Business; 2010; ISBN 978-1-4419-1271-8; pp 295; $179 (hardcover).

Most clinicians now realize that autism is a spectrum disorder with a variety of contributory neuropathologic and behavioral elements. This book includes a number of researchers who address the new evidence regarding these elements. New additions to the literature regarding the theories of neuropathology and developmental disorders are discussed in a meaningful and rigorous way.

Since the early descriptions of autism spectrum conditions by Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, clinicians often have met serious challenges untangling the causes and treatment for these disorders. This small text helps explain much of the current theories about autism. Much of the material is a refreshing introduction into basic neurochemistry as it is applied to human behavior and development. Autism and related conditions are now considered to be among the most common developmental disorders with an incidence rate of about 1 in every 150 children. With such a high rate of occurrence we as physicians need to know as much theoretic information as possible about this serious and persistent illness. The authors explain that autism is a clinically heterogeneous disorder with an obvious genetic diathesis. They point out that early detection of this condition can greatly change the outcome of this disorder. The old misinformation about chemical exposures and immunization are put to rest in this informative volume.

The authors explain the theoretical basis of autistic disorders well. The inheritance pattern and prevalence of male cases is discussed from the vantages of brain sexual dimorphism and lateralization to the neuroanatomical differences in developing fetal brains. This discussion is informative and also easy for an ordinary clinician to understand. The review of neurologic mechanisms covers well-known emotion-regulating regions such as the amygdala and lesser-known structures such as the cortical micro-columns, all explained in a clear and concise manner.

Alterations in the biochemistry of minicolumns are discussed in a way that is enlightening and interesting for physicians who are not biochemists. The editor and chapter authors make liberal use of diagrams and pictures to explain complex paradigms. This section of the book opens to a discussion of pharmacological treatments. A nice addition to this book is a user-friendly appendix containing simple abstracts and chapter summaries, which is wonderful if you want a quick review of the essential material in each chapter.

I felt that I had learned more about autism after reading this book and I believe the average physician would feel the same. The authors answer many questions and cover a big topic in relatively few pages. It is well organized and the editor has done a good job of maintaining high scholarly standards while keeping the material easy to digest. This is an interesting and informative book and it is highly recommended.