Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and childhood onset schizophrenia (COS) are pediatric neurodevelopmental disorders associated with significant morbidity. Both conditions are thought to share an underlying genetic architecture. A comparison of neuroimaging findings across ASD and COS with a focus on altered neurodevelopmental trajectories can shed light on potential clinical biomarkers and may highlight an underlying etiopathogenesis.
Methods: A comprehensive review of the medical literature was conducted to summarize neuroimaging data with respect to both conditions in terms of structural imaging (including volumetric analysis, cortical thickness and morphology, and region of interest studies), white matter analysis (include volumetric analysis and diffusion tensor imaging) and functional connectivity.
Results: In ASD, a pattern of early brain overgrowth in the first few years of life is followed by dysmaturation in adolescence. Functional analyses have suggested impaired long-range connectivity as well as increased local and/or subcortical connectivity in this condition. In COS, deficits in cerebral volume, cortical thickness, and white matter maturation seem most pronounced in childhood and adolescence, and may level off in adulthood. Deficits in local connectivity, with increased long-range connectivity have been proposed, in keeping with exaggerated cortical thinning.
Conclusion: The neuroimaging literature supports a neurodevelopmental origin of both ASD and COS and provides evidence for dynamic changes in both conditions that vary across space and time in the developing brain. Looking forward, imaging studies which capture the early post natal period, which are longitudinal and prospective, and which maximize the signal to noise ratio across heterogeneous conditions will be required to translate research findings into a clinical environment.
Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; child development; childhood onset schizophrenia; magnetic resonance imaging; neuroimaging; review.