White matter integrity and pictorial reasoning in high-functioning children with autism

Chérif P Sahyoun, John W Belliveau, Maria Mody
Brain and Cognition 2010, 73 (3): 180-8
The current study investigated the neurobiological role of white matter in visuospatial versus linguistic processing abilities in autism using diffusion tensor imaging. We examined differences in white matter integrity between high-functioning children with autism (HFA) and typically developing controls (CTRL), in relation to the groups' response times (RT) on a pictorial reasoning task under three conditions: visuospatial, V, semantic, S, and V+S, a hybrid condition allowing language use to facilitate visuospatial transformations. Diffusion-weighted images were collected from HFA and CTRL participants, matched on age and IQ, and significance maps were computed for group differences in fractional anisotropy (FA) and in RT-FA association for each condition. Typically developing children showed increased FA within frontal white matter and the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF). HFA showed increased FA within peripheral white matter, including the ventral temporal lobe. Additionally, RT-FA relationships in the semantic condition (S) implicated white matter near the STG and in the SLF within the temporal and frontal lobes to a greater extent in CTRL. Performance in visuospatial reasoning (V, V+S), in comparison, was related to peripheral parietal and superior precentral white matter in HFA, but to the SLF, callosal, and frontal white matter in CTRL. Our results appear to support a preferential use of linguistically-mediated pathways in reasoning by typically developing children, whereas autistic cognition may rely more on visuospatial processing networks.

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