Autistic and non-autistic brain differences isolated for first time

March 20, 2015
Brain model with regions of interest highlighted. Credit: University of Warwick

The functional differences between autistic and non-autistic brains have been isolated for the first time, following the development of a new methodology for analysing MRI scans.

Developed by researchers at the University of Warwick, the methodology, called Brain-Wide Association Analysis (BWAS), is the first capable of creating panoramic views of the whole and provides scientists with an accurate 3D model to study.

The researchers used BWAS to identify regions of the brain that may make a major contribution to the symptoms of autism.

BWAS does so by analysing 1,134,570,430 individual pieces of data; covering the 47,636 different areas of the brain, called voxels, which comprise a functional MRI (fMRI) scan and the connections between them.

Previous methodologies were process this level of data and were restricted to modelling only limited areas.

The ability to analyse the entire data set from an fMRI scan provided the Warwick researchers the opportunity to compile, compare and contrast accurate computer models for both autistic and non-autistic brains.

Led by BWAS developer Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the University of Warwick's Department of Computer Science, the researchers collected the data from hundreds of fMRI scans of autistic and non-autistic brains.

Connections between regions of interest. Credit: University of Warwick

By comparing the two subsequent models the researchers isolated twenty examples of difference, where the connections between voxels of the were stronger or weaker than the non-autistic .

The identified differences include key systems involved with brain functions relating to autism. Professor Feng explained the findings:

"We identified in the autistic model a key system in the temporal lobe visual cortex with reduced cortical functional connectivity. This region is involved with the face expression processing involved in social behaviour. This key system has reduced functional connectivity with the , which is implicated in emotion and social communication".

The researchers also identified in autism a second key system relating to reduced cortical , a part of the parietal lobe implicated in spatial functions.

They propose that these two types of functionality, face expression-related, and of one's self and the environment, are important components of the computations involved in theory of mind, whether of oneself or of others, and that reduced connectivity within and between these regions may make a major contribution to the symptoms of autism.

A list of 20 regions of interest indentified by BWAS. Credit: University of Warwick

The researchers argue that the methodology can potentially isolate the areas of the brain involved with other cognitive problems, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADHD and schizophrenia.

By using meta-analysis and a rigorous statistics approach the Warwick researchers were able to collect and use a big data set to obtain significant results, the likes of which have not been seen in autistic literature before. Professor Feng explains:

"We used BWAS to analyse resting state fMRI data collected from 523 autistic people and 452 controls. The amount of data analysed helped to achieve the sufficient statistical power necessary for this first voxel-based, comparison of whole autistic and non-autistic brains. Until the development of BWAS this had not been possible.

"BWAS tests for differences between patients and controls in the connectivity of every pair of voxels at a whole brain level. Unlike previous seed-based or independent components-based approaches, this method has the great advantage of being fully unbiased in that the connectivity of all brain voxels can be compared, not just selected brain regions."

Explore further: Do disruptions in brain communication have a role in autism?

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teslaberry
not rated yet Mar 20, 2015
NONSENSical science. nothing has been isolated.
cgsperling
1 / 5 (1) Mar 20, 2015
Nothing motivates scientists to find the true cause of something than to have ignoramuses (anti-vaxxers) attribute it to the wrong thing.
PhysicsMatter
not rated yet Mar 20, 2015
Another unindicted Wall Street conspirator moves to rip havoc in medicine for profit. All those financial HFT computer trading system cost tonnes of money and must be used somehow, such as for nonsensical statistical modeling with no hope of understanding nothing. This is just one of a big data surveillance projects under guise of helping needy.

Another quasi- medical project supposedly focused identification of "pre-infection" state in infants" by 24/7 monitoring vital signs of millions infants all over that world. After years of collecting millions of terabytes of data, chief of the project, former Wall street executive, declared success of predicting fever of one infant, task that could have been accomplish by one caring nurse as a part of her regular duties.

It is appalling how bid data ignorant gurus of new age drain resources and spread rampant confusion among population with their as much costly as useless quasi-scientific excretions of utter nonsense or absurd.
FainAvis
not rated yet Mar 21, 2015
@PhysicsMatter
Try to make sense. Never mind, I have marked you as ignored.
mvdoerr
1 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2015
Now a new question: If there are a certain number of functional differences, what is the mechanism of action that shows the absence of any structural differences and the presence of functional differences? I could go on as to why and how that should be a good question. Other questions that I think should be brought up include: how could this new MRI technique be used to diagnose autism/Asperger's? I personally think that what is preventing anyone from learning anything new is the idiotic claim that autism or Asperger's is so complex that it is a 'spectrum,' whatever that means. Or you could also ask whether or not it is possible that to use that knowledge to see if this disorder is actually a 'spectrum.' As someone who believes that he may have been misdiagnosed with autism and without a medical basis alongside a hearing loss, I use that idea with a neurologist's permission to have it tested on myself. Who knows, maybe my neurology could correct my misdiagnosis and hearing loss. Yes!?

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