- About ASF
- What is Autism?
- How Common is Autism?
- Early Signs of Autism
- Autism Diagnosis
- Following a Diagnosis
- Treatment Options
- Beware of Non-Evidence-Based Treatments
- Statement on Use of Medical Marijuana for People with Autism
- Autism and Vaccines
- Autism Science
- Quick Facts About Autism
- What We Fund
- Apply for a Fellowship
- Apply for a Research Accelerator Grant
- Apply for an Undergraduate Summer Research Grant
- Funding Calendar
- ASF Funded Research
- Where Are They Now?
- ASF Supported Findings
- Autism Sisters Project
- Baby Siblings Research Consortium
- Get Involved
- Day of Learning
- Year End Summaries
- Contact Us
Research by Topic: Brain Imaging
There is less myelin in the brains of people with autism than in those of controls, according to a study published in Psychological Medicine. Myelin is an insulating material that allows neurons to fire rapidly. Researchers applied a method that measures myelin in living brains with autism for the first time. The researchers speculate that low myelin explains the weak connectivity observed in the brains of people with autism. Without proper insulation, electrical signals travel slowly along the axons, making it difficult for regions of the brain to coordinate their activity.
A new technique helps researchers trace the nerve fibers that connect brain regions by revealing how the fibers physically relate to curves and folds on the brains surface. The method was described in Medical Image Analysis. The technique examines the relationship between white matter, composed of nerve fibers and support cells, and gray matter, which is largely made of the cell bodies of the neurons the fibers sprout from. Preliminary findings support the theory that autism involves early, hyperconnected and dense brain growth before an abnormal decline, the researchers say.
Even at rest, the brains of people with autism manage more information than those of their peers, according to a new study that may provide support for the so-called intense world theory of autism. The research, which was published in Frontiers in Neuroinformatics, included nine children with Asperger syndrome, aged between 6 and 14 and ten age-matched typical children. The researchers scanned their brains using magnetoencephalography (MEG), a noninvasive method that doesnt require lying in a noisy, confined space as magnetic resonance imaging does. The results suggest that in the same boring situation, people with autism process more information than their typical peers.
"Following intranasal administration of oxytocin (OT), we measured, via functional MRI, changes in brain activity during judgments of socially (Eyes) and nonsocially (Vehicles) meaningful pictures in 17 children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD). OT increased activity in the striatum, the middle frontal gyrus, the medial prefrontal cortex, the right orbitofrontal cortex, and the left […]
A study in Brain Research shows a difference in how auditory nerve fibers develop may explain why children with autism process sounds a fraction of a second more slowly than typically developing children do. It is known that the brains response to sound speeds up as children age. This boost in speed is known to be accompanied by the maturation of white matter the nerve fibers that connect brain regions. It was once believed that in children with autism, the white matter didn’t mature with age like it does in typically-developing children. However, it is now believed that it does mature with age in children with autism, just in a different way.
A new imaging technique that can assemble finely detailed pictures of an individual mouses brain in less than a day is being used to explore mouse models of autism. The automated technique cuts a mouse brain into 280 thin slices, which are scanned by a powerful microscope and the resulting images are then stitched together into a three-dimensional view. The researchers used this technique to investigate the imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory signals in a mouse model of 16p11.2 deletion. People missing this chromosomal region have an increased risk for autism, and about one-quarter have epilepsy, in which an excess of excitatory signals causes seizures.
A technique borrowed from geography bolsters the idea that altered wiring of the brains gray matter plays a role in autism, according to a new report. This is the first study to examine intrinsic connectivity in the living brain.
Scientists create an accessible database of more than 1,000 brain scans of people with autism and controls. The database, called the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE), will help scientists share brain imaging data.
This Stanford study identifies an underconnectivity between the voice-selective cortex and the reward centers in the brain. This could suggest why children with autism have trouble grasping the social and emotional aspects of human speech.
Brain imaging study reveals individuals with autism have a ticker cortex with more folds. This suggests that differences in cognitive abilities of people with autism could be due to unique brain structures.
Two recent studies have linked mind-blindness to atypical patterns of brain activity in people with ASD.
This special report from the Simons Foundation looks at neural connectivity theories of autism.
A Quantitative Link between Face Discrimination Deficits and Neuronal Selectivity for Faces in AutismPublished March 15, 2013 in NeuroImage: Clinical
In this fMRI study of adults with ASD, reduced neuronal selectivity for faces was linked to greater behavioral deficits in face recognition.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Is Associated with Ventricular Enlargement in a Low Birth Weight PopulationPublished February 13, 2013 in Journal of Pediatrics
This new study in the Journal of Pediatrics links ventricular enlargement in the brains of low-birth-weight neonates to ASD.
MEG study finds diminished long-range and local functional connectivity as individuals with ASD viewed faces. The study challenges the popular assumption that only long-range connectivity is reduced in ASD.
According to this recent meta-analysis of fMRI studies, autism-related changes in brain activity may continue to develop with age.
Dr. Gabriel Dichter presents a new review of fMRI research in ASD, noting common themes of atypical activation and functional connectivity in the brain.
Sponsored in part by ASF, the new Nature Outlook supplement on autism features articles on genetics, adulthood, brain imaging, diagnosis and more.
Neural Mechanisms of Improvements in Social Motivation After Pivotal Response Treatment: Two Case StudiesPublished October 27, 2012 in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Researchers find increased activation to social stimuli in brain regions involved in social perception in two children with ASD after pivotal response treatment (PRT).
Atypical Activation During the Embedded Figures Task as a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Endophenotype of AutismPublished October 11, 2012 in Brain
This study uncovers a possible fMRI endophenotype of autism, showing that compared to typically developing controls with no family history of ASD, adolescents with autism and non-autistic siblings had atypical patterns of brain activation during the Embedded Figures Task.
Announcing the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange, a Database of Brain Scans from Over 15 Medical and Research Institutions WorldwidePublished September 24, 2012 in Enhanced Online News
Researchers officially announce the creation of the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange, a database of previously collected brain scans from over 15 medical and research institutions worldwide. The founders aim to advance scientific understanding of ASD through this data sharing initiative.
This imaging study led by Carnegie Mellon researchers suggests adults with autism have unreliable neural responses when presented with basic sensory information. University says findings could bring us closer to understanding the connection between brain and behavior in autism. See the press release here: http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2012/september/sept19_autisticneuralresponses.html
“Here, we evaluate the hypothesis that decreased connectivity in high-functioning adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder relative to typically developing adolescents is concentrated within domain-specific circuits that are specialized for social processing. Using a novel whole-brain connectivity approach in functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that not only are decreases in connectivity most pronounced between regions of the social brain but also they are selective to connections between limbic-related brain regions involved in affective aspects of social processing from other parts of the social brain that support language and sensorimotor processes.”
Early Behavioral Intervention is Associated with Normalized Brain Activity in Young Children with AutismPublished August 31, 2012 in Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
This randomized trial associated ESDM with normalized brain activity and behavioral improvements in young children with ASD.
A Stable Pattern of EEG Spectral Coherence Distinguishes Children with Autism From Neuro-typical Controls – A Large Case Control StudyPublished June 26, 2012 in BMC Medicine
“BACKGROUND: The autism rate has recently increased to 1 in 100 children. Genetic studies demonstrate poorly understood complexity. Environmental factors apparently also play a role. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies demonstrate increased brain sizes and altered connectivity. Electroencephalogram (EEG) coherence studies confirm connectivity changes. However, genetic-, MRI- and/or EEG-based diagnostic tests are not yet available. The varied study results likely reflect methodological and population differences, small samples and, for EEG, lack of attention to group-specific artifact.RESULTS: Total sample PCA [principal components analysis] of coherence data identified 40 factors which explained 50.8% of the total population variance. For the 2- to 12-year-olds, the 40 factors showed highly significant group differences (P < 0.0001). Ten randomly generated split half replications demonstrated high-average classification success (C, 88.5%; ASD, 86.0%). Still higher success was obtained in the more restricted age sub-samples using the jackknifing technique: 2- to 4-year-olds (C, 90.6%; ASD, 98.1%); 4- to 6-year-olds (C, 90.9%; ASD 99.1%); and 6- to 12-year-olds (C, 98.7%; ASD, 93.9%). Coherence loadings demonstrated reduced short-distance and reduced, as well as increased, long-distance coherences for the ASD-groups, when compared to the controls. Average spectral loading per factor was wide (10.1 Hz)."
A brain imaging study out of Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that autism and Asperger’s syndrome are biologically distinct conditions. The study analyzes the patterns of brain connectivity in children with ASD and found that children with autism might have distinct neural signaling patterns. This study follows the release of the APA’s new DSM-5 that classifies Asperger’s under an umbrella diagnosis of ASD.News Article: http://www.medicaldaily.com/aspergers-syndrome-and-autism-are-biologically-distinct-according-new-brain-study-video-249255
Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston Identify Brain Activity Patterns Specific to Children with AutismPublished June 26, 2012 in Time
Study from Children’s Hospital Boston uses EEG to identify specific brain activity patterns in children with autism.
Researchers led by Dr. Ben Philpot, an ASF funded mentor, at UNC School of Medicine found that seizures in individuals with Angelman syndrome could be linked to an imbalance in brain cell activity. Angelman syndrome exhibits frequent comorbidity with autism spectrum disorders.
“The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between language pathways and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in patients with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC). “
Differences in White Matter Fiber Tract Development Present from 6 to 24 Months in Infants with Autism.Published June 1, 2012 in American Journal of Psychiatry
Research suggests that aberrant development of white matter pathways may precede the manifestation of autistic symptoms in the first year of life.
Using diffusion magnetic resonance imaging, researchers found cerebral fiber pathways formed a rectilinear three-dimensional grid and Cortico-cortical pathways formed parallel sheets of interwoven paths in four nonhuman primate species and in humans.
Now, a new study offers insight into why some people shrug off physical touches and how families affected by autism may learn to share hugs without overwhelming an autistic childs senses.
Measuring brain activity in infants as young as six months may help to predict the future development of autism symptoms.
A new technology developed by neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) transforms the way highly detailed anatomical images can be made of whole brains.
While it is still unclear what’s different in the brains of people with autism spectrum disorders, more and more evidence from genetic and cell studies points to abnormalities in how neurons connect to each other.
Non-verbal children with autism show structural differences in key language areas of the brain compared with controls, according to a poster presented Saturday at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
UCLA researchers have found the connections between brain regions that are important for language and social skills grow much more slowly in boys with autism than in non-autistic children…
Evidence found for the genetic basis of autism: Models of autism show that gene copy number controlsPublished October 5, 2011 in Science Daily
Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have discovered that one of the most common genetic alterations in autism — deletion of a 27-gene cluster on chromosome 16 — causes autism-like features. By generating mouse models of autism using a technique known as chromosome engineering, CSHL Professor Alea Mills and colleagues provide the first functional evidence that inheriting fewer copies of these genes leads to features resembling those used to diagnose children with autism.
Multivariate Searchlight Classification of Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Children and Adolescents with AutismPublished September 5, 2011 in Biological Psychiatry
Multiple brain regions, including those belonging to the default mode network, exhibit aberrant structural organization in children with autism. Brain-based biomarkers derived from structural magnetic resonance imaging data may contribute to identification of the neuroanatomical basis of symptom heterogeneity and to the development of targeted early interventions.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital have used a novel method for analyzing brain-scan data to distinguish children with autism from typically developing children. Their discovery reveals that the gray matter in a network of brain regions known to affect social communication and self-related thoughts has a distinct organization in people with autism.
In a study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience, a team of scientists from the University’s School of Psychology show that eye contact seems to act as an invitation for mimicry, triggering mechanisms in the frontal region of the brain that control imitation. The results could be the first clues to understanding why some people, such as children with autism, struggle to grasp when they are expected to copy the actions of others in social situations.
Review from Yale examines the role of biological motion processing in autism.
In 2005, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 2-year-old children with autism have brains up to 10 percent larger than children of the same age without autism. A follow-up study by UNC researchers has found that the children who had enlarged brains at age 2 continued to have enlarged brains at ages 4 and 5, but the amount of the enlargement was to the same degree found at age 2. This increased brain growth did not continue beyond 2 years of age and the changes detected at age 2 were due to overgrowth prior to that time point. In addition, the study found that the cortical enlargement was associated with increased folding on the surface of the brain (or increased surface area) and not an increase in the thickness of outer layer of the brain (or gray matter).
Researchers at UCLA used fMRI to examine the neural mechanisms involved in social interactions in autism spectrum disorders in order to provide insight into the social attention impairments that characterize the disorder. Researchers examined children and adolescents with ASD with social and nonsocial cues. Data revealed that in typically developing individuals, there was greater responsiveness […]
BACKGROUND: Models of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as neural disconnection syndromes have been predominantly supported by examinations of abnormalities in corticocortical networks in adults with autism. A broader body of research implicates subcortical structures, particularly the striatum, in the physiopathology of autism. Resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging has revealed detailed maps of striatal circuitry […]
Scientists funded by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen unveiled a $55 million computerized atlas of the human brain Tuesday, offering the first interactive research guide to the anatomy and genes that animate the mind.A project of the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Brain Science, the online atlas offers researchers a powerful new tool to understand where and how genes are at work in the brain. That could help them find new clues to conditions rooted in the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism and mental-health disorders like depression.
Parts of the brains of people with autism are more active in areas that deal with visual detection and identification and less in areas for decision making, planning and execution, and cognitive control, researchers from the University of Montreal revealed in the journal Human Brain Mapping. Dr. Laurent Mottron, at CETEDUM (University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders) believes their findings explain why most people with autism tend to be extremely good at visual tasks.
For many years, behavioral testing and observation have been the only way to determine if a child is autistic, often causing distress and confusion for parents. However, now the application of the standard electroencephalogram (EEG) combined with borrowed math from chaos theory, may enable doctors to read brain wave patterns and identify levels of autism one to two years earlier with 80% accuracy.
Head movements taint the results of many brain imaging studies, particularly those analyzing children or individuals with autism. Thats the sobering message from two independent studies published over the past few months in NeuroImage.
Newly published research led by Professor Z. Josh Huang, Ph.D., of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) sheds important new light on how neurons in the developing brain make connections with one another. This activity, called synapse validation, is at the heart of the process by which neural circuits self-assemble, and is directly implicated in pathology that gives rise to devastating neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and schizophrenia.
A Set Of Brain Proteins Is Found To Play A Role In Over 100 Brain Diseases And Provides A New Insight Into Evolution Of BehaviorPublished December 21, 2010 in Medical News Today
In research just published, scientists have studied human brain samples to isolate a set of proteins that accounts for over 130 brain diseases. The paper also shows an intriguing link between diseases and the evolution of the human brain.
These findings of this study hold far-reaching implications for our understanding of the neural systems underlying autism. Using FMRI to record the biological motion of children with autism spectrum disorder, unaffected siblings of children with ASD, and typically developing children, the study reveals three types of neural signatures: The study finds distinct brain responses to […]
Altered Functional Connectivity in Frontal Lobe Circuits Is Associated with Variation in the Autism Risk Gene CNTNAP2Published December 1, 2010 in Pediatrics, Scott-Van Zeeland et al
People with a common variant of the CNTNAP2 gene, a gene associated with a heightened risk of autism, ADD/ADHD and other language difficulties, have a "disconnect" between their frontal lobe and other areas of the brain important for language, according to this fMRI study. The disconnect may help explain some of the language and communication […]
Describing the Brain in Autism in Five Dimensions-Magnetic Resonance Imaging Assisted Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder Using a Multiparameter Classification ApproachPublished December 1, 2010 in Journal of Neuroscience, Ecker et al
The study tested a group of 20 high functioning adults with autism, together with 20 control adults, to determine whether MRI scans can detect autism. Using left hemisphere cortical thickness, the algorithm could achieve 90% accuracy, however the right hemisphere was worse at differentiating between the two groups. The study shows that it is feasible […]
An autism study by Yale School of Medicine researchers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has identified a pattern of brain activity that may characterize the genetic vulnerability to developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The team identified three distinct “neural signatures”: trait markers — brain regions with reduced activity in children with ASD and their unaffected siblings; state markers — brain areas with reduced activity found only in children with autism; and compensatory activity — enhanced activity seen only in unaffected siblings. The enhanced brain activity may reflect a developmental process by which these children overcome a genetic predisposition to develop ASD.
Researchers at UCLA have discovered how an autism-risk gene rewires the brain, which could pave the way for treatments aimed at rebalancing brain circuits during early development. Dr. Geschwind and team examined the variations in brain function and connectivity resulting from two forms of the CNTNAP2 gene – one form of the gene increases the risk of autism. The researchers suspected that CNTNAP2 might have an important impact on brain activity. They used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to scan 32 children’s brains while they were performing tasks related to learning. Only 16 of them had autism.The imaging results confirmed their suspicions. All the children with the autism-risk gene showed a disjointed brain, regardless of their diagnosis. Their frontal lobe was over-connected to itself, while connection to the rest of the brain was poor, especially with the back of the brain. There was also a difference between how the left and right sides of the brain connected with each other, depending on which CNTNAP2 version the child carried.The authors believe their findings could help identify autism risk earlier, and eventually lead to interventions that could enhance connections between the frontal lobe and the left side of the brain.
University of Utah (U of U) medical researchers have uncovered a wiring diagram that shows how the brain pays attention to visual, cognitive, sensory, and motor cues. The research provides a critical foundation for the study of abnormalities in attention that can be seen in many brain disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and attention deficit […]
The last two decades have seen tremendous progress in understanding the genetic basis of human brain disorders. Research developments in this area have revealed fundamental insights into the genes and molecular pathways that underlie neurological and psychiatric diseases. In a new series of review articles, experts in the field discuss exciting recent advances in neurogenetics research and the potential implications for the treatment of these devastating disorders.
Researchers at the University of Utah (U of U) are one step closer to diagnosing autism using MRI, an advance that eventually could help health care providers identify the problem much earlier in children and lead to improved treatment and outcomes for those with the disorder.
By creating a better way to see molecules at work in living brain cells, researchers affiliated with MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the MIT Department of Chemistry are helping elucidate molecular mechanisms of synapse formation. These studies could also help further understanding of how synapses go awry in developmental diseases such as autism and Fragile X syndrome.
Mutations in a single gene can cause several types of developmental brain abnormalities that experts have traditionally considered different disorders. With support from the National Institutes of Health, researchers found those mutations through whole exome sequencing ? a new gene scanning technology that cuts the cost and time of searching for rare mutations. Whole exome sequencing can be applied to dozens of other rare genetic disorders where the culprit genes have so far evaded discovery. Such information can help couples assess the risk of passing on genetic disorders to their children. It can also offer insights into disease mechanisms and treatments.
A new study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University has provided concrete evidence that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) process sensory information such as sound, touch and vision differently than typically developing children.
A 15-minute brain scan identified adults with autism almost as effectively as conventional methods of diagnosis that rely on interviews with patients and their families, U.K. scientists said. The scan detected more than 90 percent of the autistic patients who had been diagnosed using intelligence tests, psychiatric interviews, physical examinations and blood tests, according to a study by Kings College London researchers.
Language is a defining aspect of what makes us human. Although some brain regions are known to be associated with language, neuroscientists have had a surprisingly difficult time using brain imaging technology to understand exactly what these ‘language areas’ are doing. In a new study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, MIT neuroscientists report on a new method to analyze brain imaging data — one that may paint a clearer picture of how our brain produces and understands language.
Yeon-Kyun Shin, professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology at ISU, has shown that the protein called synaptotagmin1 (Syt1) is the sole trigger for the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Shin believes his discovery may be useful in understanding brain malfunctions such as autism, epilepsy and others.
A new study, the first of its kind, combines two complementary analytical brain imaging techniques to provide a more comprehensive and accurate picture of the neuroanatomy of the autistic brain.
Neuroscientists believe this “mirroring” is the mechanism by which we can “read” the minds of others and empathize with them. It’s how we “feel” someone’s pain, how we discern a grimace from a grin, a smirk from a smile. Problem was, there was no proof that mirror neurons existed — only suspicion and indirect evidence. Dr. Itzhak Fried, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, Roy Mukamel, a postdoctoral fellow in Fried’s lab, and their colleagues have for the first time made a direct recording of mirror neurons in the human brain.It’s suspected that dysfunction of these mirror cells might be involved in disorders such as autism, where the clinical signs can include difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, imitation and having empathy for others. So gaining a better understanding of the mirror neuron system might help devise strategies for treatment of this disorder.
Longitude Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Cortical Development Through Early Childhood in AutismPublished March 1, 2010 in Journal of Neuroscience, Courchesne et al
The first longitudinal study of brain growth in toddlers at the time symptoms of autism are becoming clinically apparent using structural MRI scans at multiple time points beginning at 1.5 years up to 5 years of age. They collected 193 scans on 41 toddlers who received a confirmed diagnosis of autistic disorder at approximately 48 […]
Scientists studying the anatomy of children’s brains during reading discovered something rather unexpected: Remedial training for poor readers results in a growth of white matter tracts in the brain, and the increase correlates with the level of improvement in sounding out words.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered that the brains of individuals with autism are less active when engaged in self-reflective thought. The study published in the journal Brain provides new evidence for the neural correlates of self-awareness and a new window into understanding social difficulties in autism spectrum conditions.
Children with poor reading skills who underwent an intensive, six-month training program to improve their reading ability showed increased connectivity in a particular brain region, in addition to making significant gains in reading, according to a study funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston studying the science of how babies read facial expressions say they’re hoping their results will prove useful for autism and developmental research. Scientists at Harvard believe emotion detection is so crucial in everyday life that they’re willing to cajole babies into an electrode “net” to see how to see how humans first learn to read faces.