The changes in brain development that underlie autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be detectable in children as young as 6 months, according to research reported online today in the American Journal of Psychiatry. While core behaviors associated with ASD (impaired social communication and repetitive behaviors) tend to be identified after a baby’s first birthday, researchers found clear differences in brain communication pathways as early as 6 months in infants who later received a definitive diagnosis of ASD.
As part of the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS), senior author Joe Piven, M.D., director of the University of North Carolina’s Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities in Chapel Hill, and his colleagues studied early brain and behavior development in 92 infants. These infants had older siblings on the autism spectrum and, so, were at elevated risk of developing ASD themselves.
“These results offer promise that we may one day be able to identify infants at risk for autism before the behavioral symptoms are present,” says study co-author Geri Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks chief science officer. “The goal,” she adds, “is to intervene as early as possible to prevent or reduce the onset of disabling symptoms.” One promising area of follow-up research is to identify the specific genetic and biological mechanisms behind the observed differences in brain development.
In their report, the researchers describe using a magnetic resonance imaging technology called diffusion tensor imaging to evaluate the brains of infants at 6 months, 1 year and 2 years of age. This allowed them to create three-dimensional pictures showing changes over time in each infant’s “white matter.” White matter represents the part of the brain that is particularly rich in the nerve fibers that form major information pathways between different brain regions.
The 28 infants who went on to develop ASD showed different white matter development for 12 of the 15 major brain pathways studied compared with 64 infants who did not go on to develop ASD. At 6 months, there was evidence that the white matter fiber tracts were different in infants who later developed ASD from those of infant siblings who did not develop ASD, and over time it appears that there is a slowing in white matter development. It is a brain marker that differs in children who go on to be classified with autism. These developmental differences may suggest slower white matter development during early childhood, when the brain is making and strengthening vital connections.
“It’s too early to tell whether the brain imaging techniques used in the study will be useful in identifying children at risk for ASD in early infancy,” Piven says. “But the results could guide the development of better tools for predicting the risk that a child will develop ASD and perhaps measuring whether early intervention therapies improve underlying brain biology.”
This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Child Health and Development, Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation. Further support was provided by the National Alliance for Medical Image Computing, funded by a National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering grant. With funding from Autism Speaks, the IBIS team is also looking at the genetic and environmental influences on brain and behavior development in these high-risk infants.About Autism
Jane E. Rubinstein | EurekAlert!
Tracking movement of immune cells identifies key first steps in inflammatory arthritis
23.01.2017 | Massachusetts General Hospital
Team discovers how bacteria exploit a chink in the body's armor
20.01.2017 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine
23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.01.2017 | Process Engineering