Journal Article
Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
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Reduced lateralization of multiple functional brain networks in autistic males.

BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder has been linked to a variety of organizational and developmental deviations in the brain. One such organizational difference involves hemispheric lateralization, which may be localized to language-relevant regions of the brain or distributed more broadly.

METHODS: In the present study, we estimated brain hemispheric lateralization in autism based on each participant's unique functional neuroanatomy rather than relying on group-averaged data. Additionally, we explored potential relationships between the lateralization of the language network and behavioral phenotypes including verbal ability, language delay, and autism symptom severity. We hypothesized that differences in hemispheric asymmetries in autism would be limited to the language network, with the alternative hypothesis of pervasive differences in lateralization. We tested this and other hypotheses by employing a cross-sectional dataset of 118 individuals (48 autistic, 70 neurotypical). Using resting-state fMRI, we generated individual network parcellations and estimated network asymmetries using a surface area-based approach. A series of multiple regressions were then used to compare network asymmetries for eight significantly lateralized networks between groups.

RESULTS: We found significant group differences in lateralization for the left-lateralized Language (d = -0.89), right-lateralized Salience/Ventral Attention-A (d = 0.55), and right-lateralized Control-B (d = 0.51) networks, with the direction of these group differences indicating less asymmetry in autistic males. These differences were robust across different datasets from the same participants. Furthermore, we found that language delay stratified language lateralization, with the greatest group differences in language lateralization occurring between autistic males with language delay and neurotypical individuals.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings evidence a complex pattern of functional lateralization differences in autism, extending beyond the Language network to the Salience/Ventral Attention-A and Control-B networks, yet not encompassing all networks, indicating a selective divergence rather than a pervasive one. Moreover, we observed an association between Language network lateralization and language delay in autistic males.

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