People with autism may have unique brain connections, study says

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A comparison in the extent of the voxel deviation from the typical profile of two individuals with autism. The individual with the more severe autism symptoms (right) showed greater deviations, both positive (more red) and negative (lighter blue), from the typical inter-hemispheric connectivity pattern compared to the individual with the less severe autism symptoms (left). In other words, the deviations from the control pattern was larger in the participant with the more severe symptoms. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University
A comparison in the extent of the voxel deviation from the typical profile of two individuals with autism. The individual with the more severe autism symptoms (right) showed greater deviations, both positive (more red) and negative (lighter blue), from the typical inter-hemispheric connectivity pattern compared to the individual with the less severe autism symptoms (left). In other words, the deviations from the control pattern was larger in the participant with the more severe symptoms. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Autistic disorder (or Autism) is the most common condition amongst a group of developmental disorders called Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). People with autism have difficulties in social interaction, display repetitive or obsessive behaviour and have problems with verbal and non-verbal communication. With early diagnosis, sustained therapy and medication, substantial improvement can be achieved and can help the person lead a near-normal life.  Till now, research on brain functions of people who suffer from ASDs have shown that there is a lack of connectivity or “synchronization” between the different parts of the brain, when they should actually be working in tandem. Some studies have found the exact opposite- that over-synchronization occurs in the brains of those with ASD.

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute and Carnegie Mellon University have now published a study in Nature Neuroscience suggesting that, people with autism may in fact have brain connections or synchronization patterns, that are uniquely their own. These new findings could help in the earlier diagnosis of autism and help in future treatments.

Dr. Marlene Behrmann and her colleagues conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies and analyzed data from brain scans of people with and without autism while they rested. “Resting-state brain studies are important because that is when patterns emerge spontaneously, allowing us to see how various brain areas naturally connect and synchronize their activity,” said Avital Hahamy, a Ph.D. student in Weizmann’s Neurobiology Department. The results showed a stark difference in the synchronization patterns of the control group which was similar across different individuals (termed ‘conformist’) while those with ASD had more unique patterns (termed “idiosyncratic”). This difference could be attributed to the way the two groups interact and communicate with the environment.

“From a young age, the average, typical person’s brain networks get molded by intensive interaction with people and the mutual environmental factors,” Hahamy said. “Such shared experiences could tend to make the synchronization patterns in the control group’s resting brains more similar to each other. It is possible that in ASD, as interactions with the environment are disrupted, each one develops a more uniquely individualistic brain organization pattern.”

The researchers noted that it is only a tentative explanation and more research has to be done to understand why such unique synchronization patterns are formed in people with ASDs.

 Source:

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.3919.html

http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2015/january/brain-patterns-in-autism.html

Disclaimer: This article does not reflect any personal views of the authors/editors