Cerebellar anatomical alterations and attention to eyes in autism

Sci Rep. 2017 Sep 20;7(1):12008. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-11883-w.


The cerebellum is implicated in social cognition and is likely to be involved in the pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The goal of our study was to explore cerebellar morphology in adults with ASD and its relationship to eye contact, as measured by fixation time allocated on the eye region using an eye-tracking device. Two-hundred ninety-four subjects with ASD and controls were included in our study and underwent a structural magnetic resonance imaging scan. Global segmentation and cortical parcellation of the cerebellum were performed. A sub-sample of 59 subjects underwent an eye tracking protocol in order to measure the fixation time allocated to the eye region. We did not observe any difference in global cerebellar volumes between ASD patients and controls; however, regional analyses found a decrease of the volume of the right anterior cerebellum in subjects with ASD compared to controls. There were significant correlations between fixation time on eyes and the volumes of the vermis and Crus I. Our results suggest that cerebellar morphology may be related to eye avoidance and reduced social attention. Eye tracking may be a promising neuro-anatomically based stratifying biomarker of ASD.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Cerebellum / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebellum / physiopathology*
  • Eye / diagnostic imaging
  • Eye / physiopathology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Regression Analysis
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter / physiopathology
  • Young Adult