Imaging derived cortical thickness reduction in high-functioning autism: key regions and temporal slope

Neuroimage. 2011 Sep 15;58(2):391-400. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.06.040. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


Cortical thickness (CT) changes possibly contribute to the complex symptomatology of autism. The aberrant developmental trajectories underlying such differences in certain brain regions and their continuation in adulthood are a matter of intense debate. We studied 28 adults with high-functioning autism (HFA) and 28 control subjects matched for age, gender, IQ and handedness. A surface-based whole brain analysis utilizing FreeSurfer was employed to detect CT differences between the two diagnostic groups and to investigate the time course of age-related changes. Direct comparison with control subjects revealed thinner cortex in HFA in the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) of the left hemisphere. Considering the time course of CT development we found clusters around the pSTS and cuneus in the left and the paracentral lobule in the right hemisphere to be thinner in HFA with comparable age-related slopes in patients and controls. Conversely, we found clusters around the supramarginal gyrus and inferior parietal lobule (IPL) in the left and the precentral and postcentral gyrus in the right hemisphere to be thinner in HFA, but with different age-related slopes in patients and controls. In the latter regions CT showed a steady decrease in controls but no analogous thinning in HFA. CT analyses contribute in characterizing neuroanatomical correlates of HFA. Reduced CT is present in brain regions involved in social cognition. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that aberrant brain development leading to such differences is proceeding throughout adulthood. Discrepancies in prior morphometric studies may be induced by the complex time course of cortical changes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Aging / physiology
  • Anatomy, Cross-Sectional
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Intelligence
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Temporal Lobe / growth & development
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology*
  • Young Adult