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Altered Structure–Function Relations of Semantic Processing in Youths with High-Functioning Autism: A Combined Diffusion and Functional MRI Study

Authors

  • Yu-Chun Lo,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University College of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan
    2. Center for Optoelectronic Medicine, National Taiwan University College of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan
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  • Tai-Li Chou,

    1. Graduate Institute of Brain and Mind Sciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
    2. Department of Psychology, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
    3. Neurobiology and Cognitive Science Center, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
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  • Li-Ying Fan,

    1. Department of Psychology, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
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  • Susan Shur-Fen Gau,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University College of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan
    2. Graduate Institute of Brain and Mind Sciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
    3. Department of Psychology, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
    4. Neurobiology and Cognitive Science Center, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
    5. Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan
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  • Yen-Nan Chiu,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan
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  • Wen-Yih Isaac Tseng

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Optoelectronic Medicine, National Taiwan University College of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan
    2. Graduate Institute of Brain and Mind Sciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
    3. Neurobiology and Cognitive Science Center, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
    4. Department of Medical Imaging, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan
    • Address for correspondence and reprints: Wen-Yih Isaac Tseng, Center for Optoelectronic Biomedicine, National Taiwan University College of Medicine, No. 1, Sec. 1, Jen-Ai Road, Taipei 10051, Taiwan. E-mail: wytseng@ntu.edu.tw; Susan Shur-Fen Gau, Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University Hospital & College of Medicine, No. 7, Chung-Shan South Road, Taipei 10002, Taiwan. E-mail: gaushufe@ntu.edu.tw

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Abstract

Deficits in language and communication are among the core symptoms of autism, a common neurodevelopmental disorder with long-term impairment. Despite the striking nature of the autistic language impairment, knowledge about its corresponding alterations in the brain is still evolving. We hypothesized that the dual stream language network is altered in autism, and that this alteration could be revealed by changes in the relationships between microstructural integrity and functional activation. The study recruited 20 right-handed male youths with autism and 20 carefully matched individually, typically developing (TD) youths. Microstructural integrity of the left dorsal and left ventral pathways responsible for language processing and the functional activation of the connected brain regions were investigated by using diffusion spectrum imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging of a semantic task, respectively. Youths with autism had significantly poorer language function, and lower functional activation in left dorsal and left ventral regions of the language network, compared with TD youths. The TD group showed a significant correlation of the functional activation of the left dorsal region with microstructural integrity of the left ventral pathway, whereas the autism group showed a significant correlation of the functional activation of the left ventral region with microstructural integrity of the left dorsal pathway, and moreover verbal comprehension index was correlated with microstructural integrity of the left ventral pathway. These altered structure–function relationships in autism suggest possible involvement of the dual pathways in supporting deficient semantic processing. Autism Res 2013, 6: 561–570. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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