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Abnormal asymmetry in language association cortex in autism



Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting cognitive, language, and social functioning. Although language and social communication abnormalities are characteristic, prior structural imaging studies have not examined language-related cortex in autistic and control subjects. Subjects included 16 boys with autism (aged 7–11 years), with nonverbal IQ greater than 80, and 15 age- and handedness-matched controls. Magnetic resonance brain images were segmented into gray and white matter; cerebral cortex was parcellated into 48 gyral-based divisions per hemisphere. Asymmetry was assessed a priori in language-related inferior lateral frontal and posterior superior temporal regions and assessed post hoc in all regions to determine specificity of asymmetry abnormalities. Boys with autism had significant asymmetry reversal in frontal language-related cortex: 27% larger on the right in autism and 17% larger on the left in controls. Only one additional region had significant asymmetry differences on post hoc analysis: posterior temporal fusiform gyrus (more left-sided in autism), whereas adjacent fusiform gyrus and temporooccipital inferior temporal gyrus both approached significance (more right-sided in autism). These inferior temporal regions are involved in visual face processing. In boys with autism, language and social/face processing–related regions displayed abnormal asymmetry. These structural abnormalities may relate to language and social disturbances observed in autism.