Those With Autism May Have Unique Brain Connections, Study Shows
Brains of people without the disorder show similar patterns, possibly because of shared social experiences
MONDAY, Jan. 19, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- People with autism may have brain connections that are uniquely their own, a new study suggests.
Previous research has found either over- or under-synchronization between different areas of the brains of people with autism, when compared to those without the disorder. The authors of the new study said those apparently conflicting findings may reflect the fact that each person with autism might have unique synchronization patterns.
The new findings may help lead to earlier diagnosis of autism and new treatments, the researchers added.
"Identifying brain profiles that differ from the pattern observed in typically developing individuals is crucial not only in that it allows researchers to begin to understand the differences that arise in [autism] but ... it opens up the possibility that there are many altered brain profiles," study author Marlene Behrmann said in a Carnegie Mellon University news release. She is a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Pittsburgh university.
Autism is a developmental disorder in which children have trouble communicating with others and exhibit repetitive or obsessive behaviors. Autism varies widely in its severity and symptoms, according to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
About one in 68 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this latest study, Behrmann and her colleagues analyzed data from brain scans of people with and without autism while they rested.
"Resting-state brain studies are important because that is when patterns emerge spontaneously, allowing us to see how various brain areas naturally connect and synchronize their activity," explained study co-author Avital Hahamy in the news release. Hahamy is a Ph.D. student in the neurobiology department at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.
All of the people without autism had similar synchronization patterns, while those with autism showed much more individual variation, according to the study published Jan. 19 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
"From a young age, the average, typical person's brain networks get molded by intensive interaction with people and the mutual environmental factors. Such shared experiences could tend to make the synchronization patterns in the control group's resting brains more similar to each other," Hahamy suggested.
"It is possible that in [autism], as interactions with the environment are disrupted, each [person with the disorder] develops a more uniquely individualistic brain organization pattern," Hahamy added.
This is only a preliminary explanation, and much more research is needed to determine the range of factors that may cause the unique brain wave synchronization patterns seen in people with autism, the study authors noted.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.