Study Examines Brain Network Connectivity in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

A study that examined brain network connectivity in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suggests that childhood autism is characterized by hyperconnectivity of major large-scale brain networks and that the salience network may be a distinguishing factor in children with ASD, according to a study published by JAMA Psychiatry, a JAMA Network publication.

ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects nearly 1 in 88 children and affects language, social communication, motor behaviors and sensory systems. The salience network is a functional network of interconnected brain areas that are hypothesized to be involved with processing and allocating attention to external and internal stimuli that are salient to the individual, the authors write in the study background.

Lucina Q. Uddin, Ph.D., and colleagues from Stanford University, California, examined the connectivity of large-scale brain networks to determine whether specific networks can distinguish children with ASD from typically developing (TD) children and predict symptom severity in children with ASD.

The study, performed at the Stanford University School of Medicine, included 20 children, ages 7 to 12 years, with ASD and 20 age-, sex- and IQ-matched TD children.

“We observed stronger functional connectivity within several large-scale brain networks in children with ASD compared with TD children,” according to the results. “Using maps of each individual’s salience network, children with ASD could be discriminated from TD children with a classification accuracy of 78 percent, with 75 percent sensitivity and 80 percent specificity.”

The authors suggest that quantifying brain network connectivity is a step toward developing biomarkers to objectively identify children with ASD.

“Future work is necessary for extending this finding to even younger children, with the ultimate goal of developing brain-based biomarkers that may be used to aid diagnosis and guide targeted early intervention,” the study concludes.

(JAMA Psychiatry. Published online June 26, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.104.