Detecting autism from brain activity

April 17, 2013

Neuroscientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the University of Toronto have developed an efficient and reliable method of analyzing brain activity to detect autism in children. Their findings appear today in the online journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers recorded and analyzed dynamic patterns of with (MEG) to determine the brain's – that is, its communication from one region to another. MEG measures magnetic fields generated by electrical currents in neurons of the brain.

Roberto Fernández Galán, PhD, an assistant professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve and an electrophysiologist seasoned in theoretical physics led the research team that detected (ASD) with 94 percent accuracy. The new analytic method offers an efficient, quantitative way of confirming a of autism.

"We asked the question, 'Can you distinguish an autistic brain from a non- simply by looking at the patterns of neural activity?' and indeed, you can," Galán said. "This discovery opens the door to quantitative tools that complement the existing diagnostic tools for autism based on behavioral tests."

In a study of 19 children—nine with ASD—141 sensors tracked the activity of each child's cortex. The sensors recorded how different regions interacted with each other while at rest, and compared the brain's interactions of the control group to those with ASD. Researchers found significantly stronger connections between rear and frontal areas of the brain in the ASD group; there was an asymmetrical flow of information to the frontal region, but not vice versa.

The new insight into the directionality of the connections may help identify anatomical abnormalities in ASD brains. Most current measures of functional connectivity do not indicate the interactions' directionality.

"It is not just who is connected to whom, but rather who is driving whom," Galán said.

Their approach also allows them to measure background noise, or the spontaneous input driving the brain's activity while at rest. A spatial map of these inputs demonstrated there was more complexity and structure in the control group than the ASD group, which had less variety and intricacy. This feature offered better discrimination between the two groups, providing an even stronger measure of criteria than functional connectivity alone, with 94 percent accuracy.

Case Western Reserve's Office of Technology Transfer has filed a provisional patent application for the analysis' algorithm, which investigates the brain's activity at rest. Galán and colleagues hope to collaborate with others in the autism field with emphasis on translational and clinical research.

Galán's collaborators and co-authors of this study are University of Toronto's associate researcher, Luis García Domínguez, PhD, and professor José Luis Pérez Velázquez, PhD.

Explore further: Impaired coordination of brain activity in autism involves local, as well as long-range, signaling

Related Stories

EEG test to identify autism in children

June 26, 2012

The number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has recently increased to one in 100. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Medicine demonstrates that EEG can distinguish ...

Do disruptions in brain communication have a role in autism?

March 21, 2013

A new study of patterns of brain communication in toddlers with autism shows evidence of aberrant neural communication even at this relatively early stage of brain development. The results are presented in an article in Brain ...

Recommended for you

Autism biomarker seen as boon for new treatments

January 11, 2017

Researchers at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment have identified a signature brain-wave pattern for children with autism spectrum disorder related to a genetic condition known as Dup15q syndrome. The research ...

Lab confirms vitamin D link to autism traits

December 14, 2016

Researchers at The University of Queensland's Queensland Brain Institute have found a link between vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and increased autism traits.

Neuromotor problems at the core of autism, study says

December 12, 2016

Rutgers neuroscientists have established that problems controlling bodily movements are at the core of autism spectrum disorders and that the use of psychotropic medications to treat autism in children often makes such neuromotor ...

Mutations in life's 'essential genes' tied to autism

December 12, 2016

Genes known to be essential to life—the ones humans need to survive and thrive in the womb—also play a critical role in the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), suggests a new study from Penn Medicine geneticists ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

parenting4specialneeds
not rated yet Apr 17, 2013
this will definitely be a major advantage as it leaves no room for errors of judgements or opinions!

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.