Network-based analysis reveals stronger local diffusion-based connectivity and different correlations with oral language skills in brains of children with high functioning autism spectrum disorders

Authors

  • Hai Li,

    1. Department of Systems Medicine and Bioengineering, The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, Houston, Texas
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  • Zhong Xue,

    1. Department of Systems Medicine and Bioengineering, The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, Houston, Texas
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  • Timothy M. Ellmore,

    1. Department of Neurosurgery, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, Texas
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  • Richard E. Frye,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Autism Research, Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
    • Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Slot 512-41B, Room R4025, 13 Children's Way, Little Rock, AR 72202. E-mail: REFrye@uams.edu

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  • Stephen T.C. Wong

    1. Department of Systems Medicine and Bioengineering, The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, Houston, Texas
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Abstract

Neuroimaging has uncovered both long-range and short-range connectivity abnormalities in the brains of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the precise connectivity abnormalities and the relationship between these abnormalities and cognition and ASD symptoms have been inconsistent across studies. Indeed, studies find both increases and decreases in connectivity, suggesting that connectivity changes in the ASD brain are not merely due to abnormalities in specific connections, but rather, due to changes in the structure of the network in which the brain areas interact (i.e., network topology). In this study, we examined the differences in the network topology between high-functioning ASD patients and age and gender matched typically developing (TD) controls. After quantitatively characterizing the whole-brain connectivity network using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data, we searched for brain regions with different connectivity between ASD and TD. A measure of oral language ability was then correlated with the connectivity changes to determine the functional significance of such changes. Whole-brain connectivity measures demonstrated greater local connectivity and shorter path length in ASD as compared to TD. Stronger local connectivity was found in ASD, especially in regions such as the left superior parietal lobule, the precuneus and angular gyrus, and the right supramarginal gyrus. The relationship between oral language ability and local connectivity within these regions was significantly different between ASD and TD. Stronger local connectivity was associated with better performance in ASD and poorer performance in TD. This study supports the notion that increased local connectivity is compensatory for supporting cognitive function in ASD. Hum Brain Mapp 35:396–413, 2014. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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