Brain Connectivity in Autism Labeled Idiosyncratic

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New imaging data suggests that the connectivity between brain regions in people with autism is unique to individuals, tying together the results of previous studies that showed limited or overactive connectivity.

A study published in Nature Neuroscience compared data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of adults with high-functioning autism and matched controls. The data showed that control participants had similar connectivity profiles, while participants with autism showed patterns that were unique to the individual. The magnitude of the distortion in connectivity correlated with behavioral symptoms of autism. The research team, led by Rafael Malach, PhD, of the Weizmann Institute, dubbed this trait “idiosyncratic.”

The researchers hypothesized that the differences in connectivity patterns between the controls and subjects with autism, and among the autism group alone, could be the result of how the individual interacts and communicates with his or her environment.

"From a young age, the average, typical person's brain networks get molded by intensive interaction with people and the mutual environmental factors. Such shared experiences could tend to make the synchronization patterns in the control group's resting brains more similar to each other,” said Avital Hahamy, who co-authored the study. “It is possible that in ASD, as interactions with the environment are disrupted, each one develops a more uniquely individualistic brain organization pattern."

Although the data is preliminary, it could potentially serve as a biomarker for autism diagnosis and aid in developing treatments. 

Brain connections
Brain Connectivity in Autism Labeled Idiosyncratic

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been associated with a reduction in resting state functional connectivity, though this assertion has recently been challenged by reports of increased connectivity in ASD. To address these contradictory findings, we examined both inter- and intrahemispheric functional connectivity in several resting state data sets acquired from adults with high-functioning ASD and matched control participants. 

Our results reveal areas of both increased and decreased connectivity in multiple ASD groups as compared to control groups. We propose that this heterogeneity stems from a previously unrecognized ASD characteristic: idiosyncratic distortions of the functional connectivity pattern relative to the typical, canonical template.

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