To review the scientific literature on the imaging of autism with a view to understanding how imaging can contribute to future studies.
Medline was searched, and bibliographies from retrieved articles were reviewed. Inclusion criteria were a diagnosis of autism according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria, third edition or later, and a control group without autism.
The field suffers from a lack of replication studies and poor methodology in terms of not controlling for confounding variables. Enlarged brain size, particularly in the temporoparietal brain region, and decreased size of the posterior corpus callosum are the only findings that have been independently replicated.
Future imaging studies should attempt to investigate more homogeneous subgroups of patients such as those with “the lesser variant of PDD” and high-functioning patients with PDD who do not have comorbid medical conditions. A different approach, examining the individual behaviours that constitute the PDD spectrum and exploring these separately along with other associated variables such as neuropsychological deficits, structural and functional brain abnormalities, and genetic information could help identify biological mechanisms that do not follow diagnostic boundaries.