Most candidate genes and genetic abnormalities linked to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are thought to play a role in developmental and experience-dependent plasticity. As a possible index of plasticity, we assessed the modulation of motor corticospinal excitability in individuals with Asperger's syndrome (AS) using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). We measured the modulatory effects of theta-burst stimulation (TBS) on motor evoked potentials (MEPs) induced by single-pulse TMS in individuals with AS as compared with age-, gender- and IQ-matched neurotypical controls. The effect of TBS lasted significantly longer in the AS group. The duration of the TBS-induced modulation alone enabled the reliable classification of a second study cohort of subjects as AS or neurotypical. The alteration in the modulation of corticospinal excitability in AS is thought to reflect aberrant mechanisms of plasticity, and might provide a valuable future diagnostic biomarker for the disease and ultimately offer a target for novel therapeutic interventions.
© 2012 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience © 2012 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.