Cortical thickness change in autism during early childhood

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Abstract

Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans at high spatial resolution can detect potential foci of early brain dysmaturation in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In addition, comparison between MRI and behavior measures over time can identify patterns of brain change accompanying specific outcomes. We report structural MRI data from two time points for a total of 84 scans in children with ASD and 30 scans in typical controls (mean age time one = 4.1 years, mean age at time two = 6.6 years). Surface-based cortical morphometry and linear mixed effects models were used to link changes in cortical anatomy to both diagnostic status and individual differences in changes in language and autism severity. Compared with controls, children with ASD showed accelerated gray matter volume gain with age, which was driven by a lack of typical age-related cortical thickness (CT) decrease within 10 cortical regions involved in language, social cognition, and behavioral control. Greater expressive communication gains with age in children with ASD were associated with greater CT gains in a set of right hemisphere homologues to dominant language cortices, potentially identifying a compensatory system for closer translational study. Hum Brain Mapp 37:2616–2629, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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