Neuroscientists have been increasingly interested in the way children with autism process stimuli in the world around them, and if their brain activity is different from those without the disorder. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine have identified a dissimilar pattern of brain activity that may characterize the genetic vulnerability to developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers Martha Kaiser and her research team scanned the brains of 62 children, ages 4-17. The study group included children with autism and their unaffected siblings, as well as typically developing children. The three groups were observed as they watched animations of biological movement.
The team identified three distinct differences, or what they referred to as ‘neural signatures’. The first were trait markers — brain regions with reduced activity in children with ASD and their unaffected siblings. The second, state markers, were brain areas with reduced activity found only in children with autism. Lastly, the groups observed what they referred to as compensatory activity, or enhanced activity seen only in unaffected siblings (Daily News Analysis, 2010).
The genetic tendency in autism puts siblings of children with autism at a much higher risk, so researchers are suggesting that the enhanced brain activity may reflect a developmental process by which these children overcome a genetic predisposition to develop ASD, and remain unaffected.
“This study may contribute to a better understanding of the brain basis of ASD, and the genetic and molecular origin of the disorder,” said Kaiser, a postdoctoral associate in the Yale Child Study Centre (Daily News Analysis, 2010).
This research is extremely insightful and could eventually lead to earlier and more precise autism diagnosis, which means a higher likelihood of early intervention for children with ASD. The original study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Kids with autism have distinctive patterns of brain activity .” Daily News Analysis (DNA) 16 Nov. 2010: n. pag. DNA India. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. <http://www.dnaindia.com/scitech/report_kids-with-autism-have-distinctive-patterns-of-brain-activity_1467357>.