The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Autism Research (CAR) produced a number of breakthrough studies in 2012, two of which were recently highlighted by the scientific community. The advocacy organization Autism Speaks selected a CAR study as one of its top discoveries of 2012, while another study, published in Trends in Cognitive Science, was one of the five most popular articles published in that journal in 2012.

Autism Speaks named a study of brain differences in children with autism one of its top 10 discoveries of 2012. The study from the Infant Brain Imaging Network, which includes CAR investigators, found significant differences in brain development starting at age 6 months in infants who later developed autism.

Sarah Paterson, PhD, director of the CAR's Infant Neuroimaging Lab, and Robert Schultz, PhD, CAR director, were co-authors of the study, which appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Drs. Paterson and Schultz are leaders of the Infant Brain Imaging Study at CHOP.

The researchers examined infants who were considered to be at increased risk for autism. After performing brain imaging scans at 6 months and behavioral assessments at 24 months, the investigators found that the brains of infants who went on to develop autism underwent physical changes before behavioral symptoms arose.

Meanwhile, the Trends in Cognitive Science study, which was led by Coralie Chevallier, PhD, of CAR's Developmental Neuroimaging Laboratory, investigated the social motivation theory of autism. The theory that social motivation, or the drive to interact and bond with others in society, could play a role in autism is a relatively recently development, and is a move away from an examination of autism rooted in cognitive issues.

According to the editors of Trends in Cognitive Science, the study was one of the five most read articles of 2012, with more than 3,000 full-text downloads and 1,000 views.

To learn more about the innovative work being done at CAR, see the Center's website.