Neuroanatomical differences in the cerebellum are among the most consistent findings in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but little is known about the relationship between cerebellar dysfunction and core ASD symptoms. The newly-emerging existence of cerebellar sensorimotor and cognitive subregions provides a new framework for interpreting the functional significance of cerebellar findings in ASD. Here we use two complementary analyses - whole-brain voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and the SUIT cerebellar atlas - to investigate cerebellar regional gray matter (GM) and volumetric lobular measurements in 35 children with ASD and 35 typically-developing (TD) children (mean age 10.4 ± 1.6 years; range 8-13 years). To examine the relationships between cerebellar structure and core ASD symptoms, correlations were calculated between scores on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI) and the VBM and volumetric data. Both VBM and the SUIT analyses revealed reduced GM in ASD children in cerebellar lobule VII (Crus I/II). The degree of regional and lobular gray matter reductions in different cerebellar subregions correlated with the severity of symptoms in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Structural differences and behavioral correlations converged on right cerebellar Crus I/II, a region which shows structural and functional connectivity with fronto-parietal and default mode networks. These results emphasize the importance of the location within the cerebellum to the potential functional impact of structural differences in ASD, and suggest that GM differences in cerebellar right Crus I/II are associated with the core ASD profile.
Keywords: ADI; ADOS; Autism spectrum disorder; Cerebellum; SUIT; Voxel based morphometry.