A proton MR spectroscopy study of the thalamus in twins with autism spectrum disorder
Multiple lines of research have reported thalamic abnormalities in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that are associated with social communication impairments (SCI), restricted and repetitive behaviors (RRB), or sensory processing abnormalities (SPA). Thus, the thalamus may represent a common neurobiological structure that is shared across symptom domains in ASD. Same-sex monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs with and without ASD underwent cognitive/behavioral evaluation and magnetic resonance imaging to assess the thalamus. Neurometabolites were measured with 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) utilizing a multi-voxel PRESS sequence and were referenced to creatine + phosphocreatine (tCr). N-acetyl aspartate (NAA), a marker of neuronal integrity, was reduced in twins with ASD (n = 47) compared to typically-developing (TD) controls (n = 33), and this finding was confirmed in a sub-sample of co-twins discordant for ASD (n = 11). NAA in the thalamus was correlated to a similar extent with SCI, RRB, and SPA, such that reduced neuronal integrity was associated with greater symptom severity. Glutamate + glutamine (Glx) was also reduced in affected versus unaffected co-twins. Additionally, NAA and Glx appeared to be primarily genetically-mediated, based on comparisons between MZ and DZ twin pairs. Thus, thalamic abnormalities may be influenced by genetic susceptibility for ASD but are likely not domain-specific.