Distinct features of autistic brain revealed in novel analysis of MRI scans
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital have used a novel method for analyzing brain-scan data to distinguish children with autism from typically developing children. Their discovery reveals that the gray matter in a network of brain regions known to affect social communication and self-related thoughts has a distinct organization in people with autism. The findings will be published online Sept. 2 in Biological Psychiatry.
While autism diagnoses are now based entirely on clinical observations and a battery of psychiatric and educational tests, researchers have been making advances toward identifying anatomical features in the brain that would help to determine whether a person is autistic.
"The new findings give a uniquely comprehensive view of brain organization in children with autism and uncover a relationship between the severity of brain-structure differences and the severity of autism symptoms," said Vinod Menon, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurology and neurological sciences, who led the research.
"We are getting closer to being able to use brain-imaging technology to help in the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with autism," said child psychiatrist Antonio Hardan, MD, who is the study's other senior author and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. Hardan treats patients with autism at Packard Children's.
Brain scans are not likely to completely replace traditional methods of autism diagnosis, which rely on behavioral assessments, Hardan added, but they may eventually aid diagnosis in toddlers.
Autism occurs in about one in every 110 children. It is a disabling developmental disorder that impairs a child's language skills, social interactions and the ability to sense how one is perceived by others.
The study compared MRI data from 24 autistic children aged 8 to 18 with scan data from 24 age-matched, typically developing children. The data was collected at the University of Pittsburgh.
"We jumped at the results," Menon said. "Our approach allows us to examine the structure of the autistic brain in a more meaningful manner." The new findings expand scientists' basic knowledge of the core brain deficits in autism, he added.
The analysis method, called "multivariate searchlight classification," divided the brain with a three-dimensional grid, then examined one cube of the brain at a time, and identified regions in which the pattern of gray matter volume could be used to discriminate between children with autism and typically developing children.
Instead of comparing the sizes of individual brain structures, as prior studies have done, the new analysis generated something akin to a topographical map of the entire brain. The scientists essentially mapped the autistic brain's distinct cliffs and valleys, uncovering subtle differences in the physical organization of the gray matter.
Such analysis may be a more useful approach than previous tacks. Earlier studies, for instance, suggested that people with autism may have larger brains in toddlerhood or have a large defect in one brain structure. This study took a different approach and discovered several autism-associated differences in the Default Mode Network, a set of brain structures important for social communication and self-related thoughts. Specific structures that differed included the posterior cingulate cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal lobes. These findings align well with recent theoretical and functional MRI studies of the autistic brain, which also point to differences in the Default Mode Network, Menon said.
Once Menon and his team had found where the differences in autistic brains were located, they were able to use their analysis to classify whether individual children in the study had autism. They used a subset of their data to "train" the mathematical algorithm, then ran the remaining brain scans through the algorithm to classify the children.
"We could discriminate between typically developing and autistic children with 92 percent accuracy on the basis of gray matter volume in the posterior cingulate cortex," said Lucina Uddin, PhD, the study's first author. Uddin is an instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford.
In addition, the children with the most severe communication deficits, as measured on a standard behavioral scale for diagnosing individuals with autism, had the biggest brain structure differences. Severe impairments in social behavior and repetitive behavior also showed a trend toward association with more severe brain differences.
Menon and his team plan to repeat the study in younger children and to extend it to larger groups of subjects. If the results are upheld, the new method offers the possibility of several applications in autism diagnosis and treatment. For instance, brain scans might eventually help distinguish autism from other behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or might predict whether high-risk children, such as those with autistic siblings, will go on to develop autism themselves. Brain scanning might also be able to predict what type of deficits will occur in a child with a new autism diagnosis, allowing clinicians to target their treatments to a child's predicted deficits.
"Scans would likely be used alongside clinical expertise, giving that extra hint from the brain data," Uddin said.
When such integrated assessments are possible, the researchers hope they will allow clinicians to build detailed profiles of each patient. "We hope we'll eventually be able to tell parents, 'Your child will probably respond to this treatment, or your child is unlikely to respond to that treatment,'" Hardan said. "In my mind, that's the future."
Provided by Stanford University Medical Center
- Weak synchronization in toddler brains may be a biological marker for autism Jul 25, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Brain scans detect autism's signature Nov 15, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- New research may lead to improved diagnosis of autism May 31, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Study finds autism-related early brain overgrowth slows by age 2 years May 02, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- No link found between autism and celiac disease May 01, 2007 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
14 hours ago From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
Marie Curie's leukemia
May 13, 2013 Does anyone know what might be the cause of Marie Curie's cancer
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
The latest makeover to a massive psychiatric tome honored by some, reviled by others and even called the "Bible" of mental disorders is being released Saturday with a host of new changes.
Psychology & Psychiatry 4 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(HealthDay)—Most Medicare beneficiaries treated in inpatient psychiatric facilities (IPFs) exhibit characteristics associated with hospital readmission, according to a report prepared for the National Association ...
Psychology & Psychiatry May 17, 2013 | not rated yet | 0
Skydivers show the same level of physical stress before every jump whether a first-timer or experienced jumper, say Northumbria researchers.
Psychology & Psychiatry May 17, 2013 | not rated yet | 0 |
Children of depressed parents pick up on their parents' sadness—whether mom or dad realizes their mood or not.
Psychology & Psychiatry May 17, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (2) | 1 |
(HealthDay)—As many as one in five American children under the age of 17 has a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to a new federal report.
Psychology & Psychiatry May 16, 2013 | 2.2 / 5 (5) | 1 |
An increasing number of U.S. children are experiencing gastrointestinal issues that require interventions to resolve, according to research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW).
7 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
A new case of the deadly coronavirus has been detected in Saudi Arabia where 15 people have already died after contracting it, the health ministry announced on Saturday on its Internet website.
5 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Big names in medicine are set to give an upbeat assessment of the war on AIDS on Tuesday, 30 years after French researchers identified the virus that causes the disease.
15 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
For combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 'fear circuitry' in the brain never rests
Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or ...
16 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
A ground-breaking advance in colonoscopy technology signals the future of colorectal care, according to research presented today at Digestive Disease Week(DDW). Additional research focuses on optimizing the minimal withdrawal ...
7 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0