Purpose: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is related to impairment in various white matter (WM) pathways. Utility of the recently developed two-compartment model of diffusion kurtosis imaging (DKI) to analyse axial diffusivity of WM is restricted by several limitations. The present study aims to validate the utility of model-free DKI in the evaluation of WM alterations in ASD and analyse the potential relationship between DKI-evident WM alterations and personality scales.
Methods: Overall, 15 participants with ASD and 15 neurotypical (NT) controls were scanned on a 3 T magnetic resonance (MR) scanner, and scores for autism quotient (AQ), systemising quotient (SQ) and empathising quotient (EQ) were obtained for both groups. Multishell diffusion-weighted MR data were acquired using two b-values (1000 and 2000 s/mm2). Differences in mean kurtosis (MK), radial kurtosis (RK) and axial kurtosis (AK) between the groups were evaluated using tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS). Finally, the relationships between the kurtosis indices and personality quotients were examined.
Results: The ASD group demonstrated significantly lower AK in the body and splenium of corpus callosum than the NT group; however, no other significant differences were identified. Negative correlations were found between AK and AQ or SQ, predominantly in WM areas related to social-emotional processing such as uncinate fasciculus, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, and inferior and superior longitudinal fasciculi.
Conclusions: Model-free DKI and its indices may represent a novel, objective method for detecting the disease severity and WM alterations in patients with ASD.
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Diffusion kurtosis imaging; Personality scales; Tract-based spatial statistics.