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!
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy