According to a recent study, adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) show an atypical amount of increased functional connectivity in brain networks that are crucial for social recognition. A group of researchers from San Diego State University compared the brain networks of 25 individuals with ASD as opposed to 25 typically developing adolescents, by using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. The participants involved in the study were between the ages of 11 and 18.
Researchers discovered that the participants with ASD showed a mixed pattern of both over, and underconnectivity, in the Theory of Mind (ToM) network, which is associated with social impairment. The connectivity increase was seen primarily between the regions of ToM, as well as the mirror neuron system (MNS). The increase in overconnectivity suggests that there is a cross between ToM and MNS which leads to social impairment and developmental challenges. The ToM network is the region of the brain which controls one’s ability to understand and interpret another’s perspective, while the MNS network allows one to interpret the actions of others and then compare them to the actions that they are able to perform.
Fifteen of the individuals with the most severe forms of ASD showed exclusive overconnectivity effects in both the ToM and MNS networks, which are associated with social dysfunction. Dr. Inna Fishman, one of the leaders of the research study, stated, “The excess ToM-MNS connectivity may reflect immature or aberrant developmental processes in two brain networks in understanding of others, a main impairment in ASD.”
Dr. Ralph Axel-Muller, who also analyzed connectivity in the study, stated the importance of studies like these to analyze the scientific causes and effects of the disorder, as opposed to simply studying behavior. He added, “One crucial problem in Autism research is that this disorder, which is generally considered a neurological disorder, is still being diagnosed on purely behavioral criteria. The field lacks reliable biomarkers. [This] imaging research pursues the target of identifying biomarkers.” This study puts researchers a step closer to better explaining the interactions between genetic and environmental risk factors in children with ASD.
The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing other research being done for Autism disorders, as well as significant scientific advances, in NYC on July 1st. Speakers include Dr. Alisa Woods, Research Assistant Professor with the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Science at Clarkson University. Dr. Woods, who is also a member of the ICare4Autism advisory council, will be discussing other biomarkers in Autism Spectrum Disorders. To hear Dr. Woods speak, please select tickets here.
As Autism Awareness Month continues, ICare4Autism will be sharing additional ways that researchers are studying Autism disorders. We will also be highlighting several self-advocates and stories of hope. We hope that you will share these stories, and use the month of April to spread awareness about Autism! Please make a difference and donate today!