In a new study published Monday, researchers have found reduced functional connectivity in local brain regions in people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This connectivity is responsible for the processing, integration and coordination of information in the neural cortex.
Past studies have already found that long-range connectivity is reduced in those with ASD, but this study has also found evidence of impairment in connectivity in smaller, localized regions of the brain.
Prior to this study, it was found that connectivity in local regions of the brain was actually increased in people with ASD, possibly contributing to common symptoms such as sensory processing deficits. However, the researchers found the opposite to be true.
Using brain imaging techniques as measured by magnetoencephalography (MEG), which detects the location and timing of brain activity, the scientists looked at 17 people diagnosed with ASD and 20 neurotypical individuals. Their functional connectivity was measured while they viewed images of various facial expressions, as well as control images of houses, while targeting an area of the brain known for facial recognition, the fusiform face area.
Local connectivity was measured by determining if their brain activity was higher in the fusiform face area when viewing faces than when viewing the control images. Long-range connectivity was also measured by looking at activity in other areas of the brain being monitored in comparison with activity in the fusiform face area.
Neurotypical participants were found to have greater long-range functional connectivity than those with ASD. Those with ASD also had reduced local functional connectivity, as their brain activity was not increased in the fusiform face area when viewing the images of faces. In addition, those who were diagnosed on the more severe end of the autism spectrum were found to have even lower rates of functional connectivity in the brain.
Furthermore, the researchers found a direct correlation between the strength of long-range functional connectivity and local functional connectivity in both the ASD group and the typical group. Therefore, both forms of neural connectivity were proportionally reduced in those with ASD.
Functional connectivity in other areas of the brain, such as the language and motor centers, need to be studied further, but this decreased brain activity could serve as a marker for early diagnosis in children with autism spectrum disorder.
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