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Differences in white matter reflect atypical developmental trajectory in autism: A Tract-based Spatial Statistics study

Reyhaneh Bakhtiari, Nicole R Zürcher, Ophélie Rogier, Britt Russo, Loyse Hippolyte, Cristina Granziera, Babak Nadjar Araabi, Majid Nili Ahmadabadi, Nouchine Hadjikhani
NeuroImage: Clinical 2012, 1 (1): 48-56
24179736
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which white matter (WM) maturation is affected. We assessed WM integrity in 16 adolescents and 14 adults with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and in matched neurotypical controls (NT) using diffusion weighted imaging and Tract-based Spatial Statistics. Decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) was observed in adolescents with ASD in tracts involved in emotional face processing, language, and executive functioning, including the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus and the inferior and superior longitudinal fasciculi. Remarkably, no differences in FA were observed between ASD and NT adults. We evaluated the effect of age on WM development across the entire age range. Positive correlations between FA values and age were observed in the right inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, the left superior longitudinal fasciculus, the corpus callosum, and the cortical spinal tract of ASD participants, but not in NT participants. Our data underscore the dynamic nature of brain development in ASD, showing the presence of an atypical process of WM maturation, that appears to normalize over time and could be at the basis of behavioral improvements often observed in high-functioning autism.

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