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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Age-related abnormalities in white matter microstructure in autism spectrum disorders

Natalia M Kleinhans, Gregory Pauley, Todd Richards, Emily Neuhaus, Nathalie Martin, Neva M Corrigan, Dennis W Shaw, Annette Estes, Stephen R Dager
Brain Research 2012 October 15, 1479: 1-16
22902768
Abnormalities in structural and functional connectivity have been reported in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) across a wide age range. However, developmental changes in white matter microstructure are poorly understood. We used a cross-sectional design to determine whether white matter abnormalities measured using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) were present in adolescents and adults with ASD and whether age-related changes in white matter microstructure differed between ASD and typically developing (TD) individuals. Participants included 28 individuals with ASD and 33 TD controls matched on age and IQ and assessed at one time point. Widespread decreased fractional anisotropy (FA), and increased radial diffusivity (RaD) and mean diffusivity (MD) were observed in the ASD group compared to the TD group. In addition, significant group-by-age interactions were observed in FA, RaD, and MD in all major tracts except the brain stem, indicating that age-related changes in white matter microstructure differed between the groups. We propose that white matter microstructural changes in ASD may reflect myelination and/or other structural differences including differences in axonal density/arborization. In addition, we suggest that white matter microstuctural impairments may be normalizing during young adulthood in ASD. Future longitudinal studies that include a wider range of ages and more extensive clinical characterization will be critical for further uncovering the neurodevelopmental processes unfolding during this dynamic time in development.

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