Accumulating evidence suggests that motor impairments are prevalent in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), relate to the social and communicative deficits at the core of the diagnosis and may reflect abnormal connectivity within brain networks underlying motor control and learning. Parcellation of resting-state functional connectivity data using spectral clustering approaches has been shown to be an effective means of visualizing functional organization within the brain but has most commonly been applied to explorations of normal brain function. This article presents a parcellation of a key area of the motor network, the primary motor cortex (M1), a key area of the motor control network, in adults, typically developing (TD) children and children with ASD and introduces methods for selecting the number of parcels, matching parcels across groups and testing group differences. The parcellation is based solely on patterns of connectivity between individual M1 voxels and all voxels outside of M1, and within all groups, a gross dorsomedial to ventrolateral organization emerged within M1 which was left-right symmetric. Although this gross organizational scheme was present in both groups of children, statistically significant group differences in the size and segregation of M1 parcels within regions of the motor homunculus corresponding to the upper and lower limbs were observed. Qualitative comparison of the M1 parcellation for children with ASD with that of younger and older TD children suggests that these organizational differences, with a lack of differentiation between lower limb/trunk regions and upper limb/hand regions, may be due, at least in part, to a delay in functional specialization within the motor cortex.
Keywords: autistic disorder; clustering; functional connectivity; motor cortex; resting state.
Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.