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White matter compromise of callosal and subcortical fiber tracts in children with autism spectrum disorder: a diffusion tensor imaging study

Dinesh K Shukla, Brandon Keehn, Alan J Lincoln, Ralph-Axel Müller
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2010, 49 (12): 1269-78, 1278.e1-2
21093776

OBJECTIVE: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is increasingly viewed as a disorder of functional networks, highlighting the importance of investigating white matter and interregional connectivity. We used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to examine white matter integrity for the whole brain and for corpus callosum, internal capsule, and middle cerebellar peduncle in children with ASD and typically developing (TD) children.

METHOD: DTI data were obtained from 26 children with ASD and 24 matched TD children. Fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), and axial and radial diffusion were calculated for the whole brain, the genu, body, and splenium of the corpus callosum, the genu and anterior and posterior limbs of the internal capsule, and the middle cerebellar peduncle.

RESULTS: Children with ASD had reduced FA and increased radial diffusion for whole-brain white matter and all three segments of the corpus callosum and internal capsule, compared with those in TD children. Increased MD was found for the whole brain and for anterior and posterior limbs of the internal capsule. Reduced axial diffusion was found for the body of corpus callosum. Reduced FA was also found for the middle cerebellar peduncle.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest widespread white matter compromise in children with ASD. Abnormalities in the corpus callosum indicate impaired interhemispheric transfer. Results for the internal capsule and middle cerebellar peduncle add to the currently limited DTI evidence on subcortico-cortical tracts in ASD. The robust impairment found in all three segments of the internal capsule is consistent with studies documenting impairment of elementary sensorimotor function in ASD.

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