Brain imaging alone cannot diagnose autism

November 2, 2012, McLean Hospital

In a column appearing in the current issue of the journal Nature, McLean Hospital biostatistician Nicholas Lange, ScD, cautions against heralding the use of brain imaging scans to diagnose autism and urges greater focus on conducting large, long-term multicenter studies to identify the biological basis of the disorder.

"Several studies in the past two years have claimed that can diagnose autism, but this assertion is deeply flawed," said Lange, an associate professor of Psychiatry and Biostatistics at Harvard Medical School. "To diagnose autism reliably, we need to better understand what goes awry in people with the disorder. Until its solid biological basis is found, any attempt to use brain imaging to diagnose autism will be futile."

While cautioning against current use of brain imaging as a diagnostic tool, he is a strong proponent of using this technology to help scientists better understand autism. Through the use of various brain imaging techniques, including (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and volumetric MRI, Lange points out that researchers have made important discoveries related to early brain enlargement in the disorder, how those with autism focus during social interaction and the role of serotonin in someone with autism.

"Brain scans have led to these extremely valuable advances, and, with each discovery, we are getting closer to solving the autism pathology puzzle," said Lange. "What individuals with autism and their parents urgently need is for us to carry out large-scale studies that lead us to find reliable, sensitive and specific biological markers of autism with high predictive value that allow clinicians to identify interventions that will improve the lives of people with the disorder."

Autism and (ASD) are terms regularly used to describe a group of complex disorders of . This spectrum characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in , verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors, whose criteria have been revised in the newly proposed Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The prevalence of ASD in the United States has increased 78 percent in the last decade, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating that one in 88 children has ASD.

Explore further: Study finds autism-related early brain overgrowth slows by age 2 years

More information: "Imaging Autism," doi:10.1038/491S17a

Related Stories

Study finds autism-related early brain overgrowth slows by age 2 years

May 2, 2011
Scientists using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) observed that the brains of children with autism spectrum disorder are larger than those without autism, but this difference appears related to increased rates of brain growth ...

Holding a mirror to brain changes in autism

March 2, 2012
Impaired social function is a cardinal symptom of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). One of the brain circuits that enable us to relate to other people is the "mirror neuron" system. This brain circuit is activated when we ...

DSM-5 proposed criteria for autism spectrum disorder diagnosis

January 23, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has proposed new diagnostic criteria for the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for autism. While final decisions ...

Recommended for you

Earlier treatment could help reverse autistic-like behavior in tuberous sclerosis

October 9, 2018
New research on autism has found, in a mouse model, that drug treatment at a young age can reverse social impairments. But the same intervention was not effective at an older age.

Scientists pinpoint pathway that impacts features of autism

October 8, 2018
A team of scientists at Florida Atlantic University has uncovered a brain-signaling pathway that can be pharmacologically manipulated in genetically engineered mice to reverse an autism-related pathway. Using an investigational ...

Scientists reverse a sensory impairment in mice with autism

September 25, 2018
Using a genetic technique that allows certain neurons in the brain to be switched on or off, UCLA scientists reversed a sensory impairment in mice with symptoms of autism, enabling them to learn a sensory task as quickly ...

Latest research hints at predicting autism risk for pregnant mothers

September 21, 2018
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—led by Juergen Hahn, professor and head of biomedical engineering—are continuing to make remarkable progress with their research focused on autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ...

Scientists reveal drumming helps schoolchildren diagnosed with autism

September 14, 2018
Drumming for 60 minutes a week can benefit children diagnosed with autism and supports learning at school, according to a new scientific study.

Overlapping copy number variations underlie autism and schizophrenia in Japanese patients

September 11, 2018
Common genetic variants may underlie autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia across human populations, according to a study appearing September 11th in the journal Cell Reports. In line with previous studies in Caucasians, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.