Joint research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychology and Auburn University indicates that brain scans show signs of autism that could eventually support behavior-based diagnosis of autism and effective early intervention therapies. The findings appear online in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience as part of a special issue on brain connectivity in autism.
“This research suggests brain connectivity as a neural signature of autism and may eventually support clinical testing for autism,” said Rajesh Kana, associate professor of psychology and the project’s senior researcher. “We found the information transfer between brain areas, causal influence of one brain area on another, to be weaker in autism.”
The investigators found that brain connectivity data from 19 paths in brain scans predicted whether the participants had autism, with an accuracy rate of 95.9 percent.
Kana, working with a team including Gopikrishna Deshpande, from Auburn University’s MRI Research Center, studied 15 high-functioning adolescents and adults with autism, as well as 15 typically developing control participants, ages 16 to 34 years. Kana’s team collected all data in his autism lab at UAB that was then analyzed using a novel connectivity method at Auburn.
The current study showed that adults with autism spectrum disorders processed social cues differently than typical controls. It also revealed the disrupted brain connectivity that explains their difficulty in understanding social processes.
“We can see that there are consistently weaker brain regions due to the disrupted brain connectivity,” Kana said. “There’s a very clear difference.”