Autism Impacts the Brain’s White Matter in Adolescents and Young Adults

December 06, 2021

Region Most Affected Facilitates Communication Between the Brain’s Two Hemispheres

Researchers from Yale University are attempting to find neuroimaging biomarkers for autism, which could potentially help children with the disorder receive a diagnosis and treatment earlier. In order to reach this goal, the research team embarked on a study which used a special type of MRI exam called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to scan the brains of a large data set of patients between the age of six months and 50 years. DTI is a scanning technique which uses water to measure connectivity in the brain. This research included individuals with autism as well as those without the disorder. The research team found significant changes in the microstructure of the brain’s white matter in adolescents and young adults with autism compared to the study’s controls. The study’s key finding was reduced fractional anisotropy within the anterior/middle tracts of the corpus callosum in adolescent and young adult patients with autism. The control group did not show this same phenomenon. The corpus callosum is a thick bundle of nerve fibers that connects and facilitates communication between the two sides of the brain. Adults with autism presented with the most reduced fractional anisotropy followed by adolescents on the spectrum. However, no reduction in fractional anisotropy was observed in toddlers and infants with autism. The researchers hope their findings will help improve early diagnosis of the disorder, but since the infants and toddlers did not show reduced fractional anisotropy, this study may not lead to the team’s original goal of finding a neuroimaging biomarker for autism for young children. 

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