A new study led by researchers from the University of Cambridge has found that a common characteristic of autism – language delay in early childhood – leaves a 'signature' in the brain. The results are published today (23 September) in the journal Cerebral Cortex.
The researchers studied 80 adult men with autism: 38 who had delayed language onset and 42 who did not. They found that language delay was associated with differences in brain volume in a number of key regions, including the temporal lobe, insula, ventral basal ganglia, which were all smaller in those with language delay; and in brainstem structures, which were larger in those with delayed language onset.
Additionally, they found that current language function is associated with a specific pattern of grey and white matter volume changes in some key brain regions, particularly temporal, frontal and cerebellar structures.
The Cambridge researchers, in collaboration with King's College London and the University of Oxford, studied participants who were part of the MRC Autism Imaging Multicentre Study (AIMS).
Delayed language onset – defined as when a child's first meaningful words occur after 24 months of age, or their first phrase occurs after 33 months of age – is seen in a subgroup of children with autism, and is one of the clearest features triggering an assessment for developmental delay in children, including an assessment of autism.
"Although people with autism share many features, they also have a number of key differences," said Dr Meng-Chuan Lai of the Cambridge Autism Research Centre, and the paper's lead author. "Language development and ability is one major source of variation within autism. This new study will help us understand the substantial variety within the umbrella category of 'autism spectrum'. We need to move beyond investigating average differences in individuals with and without autism, and move towards identifying key dimensions of individual differences within the spectrum."
He added: "This study shows how the brain in men with autism varies based on their early language development and their current language functioning. This suggests there are potentially long-lasting effects of delayed language onset on the brain in autism."
Last year, the American Psychiatric Association removed Asperger Syndrome (Asperger's Disorder) as a separate diagnosis from its diagnostic manual (DSM-5), and instead subsumed it within 'autism spectrum disorder.' The change was one of many controversial decisions in DSM-5, the main manual for diagnosing psychiatric conditions.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, senior author of the study, said "This new study shows that a key feature of Asperger Syndrome, the absence of language delay, leaves a long lasting neurobiological signature in the brain. Although we support the view that autism lies on a spectrum, subgroups based on developmental characteristics, such as Asperger Syndrome, warrant further study."
Dr Lai concluded: "It is important to note that we found both differences and shared features in individuals with autism who had or had not experienced language delay. When asking: 'Is autism a single spectrum or are there discrete subgroups?' - the answer may be both."
For additional information, please contact:
Sarah Collins, Office of Communications
University of Cambridge
Tel: +44 (0)1223 765542, Mob: +44 (0)7525 337458
Notes for editors:
1. This study was supported by the Waterloo Foundation, the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), the Autism Research Trust, the Wellcome Trust, the William Binks Autism Neuroscience Fellowship, and the European Autism Interventions—a Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications (EU-AIMS).
2. The article appears as: Meng-Chuan Lai, Michael V. Lombardo, Christine Ecker, Bhismadev Chakrabarti, John Suckling, Edward T. Bullmore, Francesca Happé, MRC AIMS Consortium, Declan G. M. Murphy and Simon Baron-Cohen. Neuroanatomy of Individual Differences in Language in Adult Males with Autism. Cerebral Cortex. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhu211
3. The Autism Research Centre (ARC) at the University of Cambridge conducts research on both the causes of and interventions for autism spectrum conditions. See http://www.autismresearchcentre.com
Sarah Collins | Eurek Alert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine