The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between language pathways and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in patients with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC). An advanced diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed on 42 patients with TSC and 42 age-matched controls. Using a validated automatic method, white matter language pathways were identified and microstructural characteristics were extracted, including fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD). Among 42 patients with TSC, 12 had ASD (29%). After controlling for age, TSC patients without ASD had a lower FA than controls in the arcuate fasciculus (AF); TSC patients with ASD had even a smaller FA, lower than the FA for those without ASD. Similarly, TSC patients without ASD had a greater MD than controls in the AF; TSC patients with ASD had even a higher MD, greater than the MD in those without ASD. It remains unclear why some patients with TSC develop ASD, while others have better language and socio-behavioral outcomes. Our results suggest that language pathway microstructure may serve as a marker of the risk of ASD in TSC patients. Impaired microstructure in language pathways of TSC patients may indicate the development of ASD, although prospective studies of language pathway development and ASD diagnosis in TSC remain essential.
Keywords: arcuate fasciculus; diffusion tensor imaging; neuroanatomy; tractography; white matter.