Structural Gray Matter Differences During Childhood Development in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Multimetric Approach
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BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. Gray matter differences linked to autism spectrum disorder have been studied using a variety of structural imaging methods, but yielded little consensus; the extent to which disparate results reflect differences in methodology or heterogeneity within autism spectrum disorder is not yet clear. Moreover, very few studies have examined gray matter changes as a function of age in autism spectrum disorder. METHOD: A detailed investigation of gray matter structural development was performed via voxel-based morphometry, cortical thickness, and cortical surface area analyses in 38 autism spectrum disorder versus 46 typically developing children. RESULTS: Relative to typically developing children, the autism spectrum disorder group showed gray matter increases most prominently in the frontal and temporal lobes (including regions such as medial frontal gyrus, Broca's area and posterior temporal cortex), as well as certain parietal and occipital subcortical regions. Gray matter decreases were found only near the temporoparietal junction. Subcortical gray matter increases were found in the putamen and caudate nucleus, while decreases were found in cerebellum. There were age-dependent GM differences in distributed regions including prefrontal cortex, primary sensorimotor cortex, and temporoparietal junction. CONCLUSION: The results underline the distributed nature of gray matter structural differences in autism spectrum disorder and provide a more comprehensive characterization of autism spectrum disorder-related cortical and subcortical gray matter structural differences during childhood and adolescent development.
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