Frequently individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been noted with a larger head circumference (HC) than their typical developing peers. Biologic hypotheses suggest that an overly rapid brain growth leads to the core symptoms of ASD by impairing connectivity. Literature is divided however where deleterious, protective and null associations of HC with ASD symptoms in individuals with ASD have been found.
Individuals (n = 1,416) from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange with ASD were examined for associations of HC with ASD like symptoms. Mixed models controlling for sex, age, race/ethnicity, simplex/multiplex status and accounting for correlations between siblings were used. Interactions by simplex/multiplex were explored. Adjustments for height in a sub-population with available data were explored as well.
A Significant interaction term (p = 0.03) suggested that the effect of HC was dependent on whether the individual was simplex or multiplex. In simplex individuals at mean age (8.9 years) 1 cm increase in head circumference was associated with a 24% increase in the odds of a high social diagnostic score from the Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (odds ratio = 1.24, p = 0.01). There was no association in multiplex individuals. Additionally, individuals classified with a non-verbal IQ <70 were 90% simplex and had a significantly increased head circumference (0.7 cm p = 0.03) relative to a mid-range non-verbal IQ group. Interestingly, children classified with a >110 non-verbal IQ also had an increased HC (0.4 cm p = 0.04), relative to a mid-range non-verbal IQ group, and were 90% multiplex. HC effects do not appear to be confounded by height, however, larger samples with height information are needed.
The potential link between brain growth and autism like symptoms is complex and could depend on specific etiologies. Further investigations accounting for a likely mode of inheritance will help identify an ASD subtype related to HC.