• the Korean Society for Brain and Neural Sciences


Review Article

Exp Neurobiol 2016; 25(1): 1-13

Published online February 29, 2016

© The Korean Society for Brain and Neural Sciences

A Short Review on the Current Understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Hye Ran Park1, Jae Meen Lee1, Hyo Eun Moon1, Dong Soo Lee2, Bung-Nyun Kim3, Jinhyun Kim4, Dong Gyu Kim1 and Sun Ha Paek1*

1Department of Neurosurgery, Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul 03080, 2Department of Nuclear Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul 03080, 3Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul 03080, 4Center for Functional Connectomics, Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Seoul 02792, Korea

Correspondence to: *To whom correspondence should be addressed.
TEL: 82-2-2072-3993, 82-2-2072-3957, FAX: 82-2-744-8459, 82-2-747-3799

Received: November 23, 2015; Revised: December 18, 2015; Accepted: December 30, 2015


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a set of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by a deficit in social behaviors and nonverbal interactions such as reduced eye contact, facial expression, and body gestures in the first 3 years of life. It is not a single disorder, and it is broadly considered to be a multi-factorial disorder resulting from genetic and non-genetic risk factors and their interaction. Genetic studies of ASD have identified mutations that interfere with typical neurodevelopment in utero through childhood. These complexes of genes have been involved in synaptogenesis and axon motility. Recent developments in neuroimaging studies have provided many important insights into the pathological changes that occur in the brain of patients with ASD in vivo. Especially, the role of amygdala, a major component of the limbic system and the affective loop of the cortico-striatothalamo-cortical circuit, in cognition and ASD has been proved in numerous neuropathological and neuroimaging studies. Besides the amygdala, the nucleus accumbens is also considered as the key structure which is related with the social reward response in ASD. Although educational and behavioral treatments have been the mainstay of the management of ASD, pharmacological and interventional treatments have also shown some benefit in subjects with ASD. Also, there have been reports about few patients who experienced improvement after deep brain stimulation, one of the interventional treatments. The key architecture of ASD development which could be a target for treatment is still an uncharted territory. Further work is needed to broaden the horizons on the understanding of ASD.

Keywords: Autistic Disorders, Review, Neurobiology, Amygdala