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!
Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University
New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy