Differences in Cortical Structure and Functional MRI Connectivity in High Functioning Autism

Front Neurol. 2018 Jul 10;9:539. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2018.00539. eCollection 2018.


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) represent a complex group of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by deficits in communication and social behaviors. We examined the functional connectivity (FC) of the default mode network (DMN) and its relation to multimodal morphometry to investigate superregional, system-level alterations in a group of 22 adolescents and young adults with high-functioning autism compared to age-, and intelligence quotient-matched 29 healthy controls. The main findings were that ASD patients had gray matter (GM) reduction, decreased cortical thickness and larger cortical surface areas in several brain regions, including the cingulate, temporal lobes, and amygdala, as well as increased gyrification in regions associated with encoding visual memories and areas of the sensorimotor component of the DMN, more pronounced in the left hemisphere. Moreover, patients with ASD had decreased connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex, and areas of the executive control component of the DMN and increased FC between the anteromedial prefrontal cortex and areas of the sensorimotor component of the DMN. Reduced cortical thickness in the right inferior frontal lobe correlated with higher social impairment according to the scores of the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). Reduced cortical thickness in left frontal regions, as well as an increased cortical thickness in the right temporal pole and posterior cingulate, were associated with worse scores on the communication domain of the ADI-R. We found no association between scores on the restrictive and repetitive behaviors domain of ADI-R with structural measures or FC. The combination of these structural and connectivity abnormalities may help to explain some of the core behaviors in high-functioning ASD and need to be investigated further.

Keywords: MRI; autism spectrum disorders; cortical thickness; default mode network (DMN); functional connectivity; social communication; stereotyped behavior.