Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The brains of people with autism have less communication between regions, new study says

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

There is no definitive diagnostic test for autism. Instead, doctors ask questions and observe children to see if they have difficulty communicating and interacting with others.

Those imprecise measures can make the neurological disorder hard to identify, delaying the diagnosis.

Hoping to speed detection, and thus treatment, and distinguish between types of autism, Utah researchers have been scanning the brains of autistic boys and men and comparing them with those without the disorder.

On Oct. 14, they published their findings in Cerebral Cortex online, showing there is less communication between regions of the brain in the autistic patients.

The scientists are from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, along with University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard Medical School.

“Our understanding of what causes autism is still in its infancy,” said Jason Druzgal, a neuroradiologst who was working at the U. at the time of the study and now works at the University of Virginia.

One theory targets abnormal connectivity in the brain.

Normally, there are strong connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain allowing separate regions to work together to perform tasks.

Among autistic patients, the brain scans found less communication among regions associated with facial recognition, language and motor skills.

Druzgal said using MRIs in the diagnosis of autism is about five years away.

Other researchers are looking at different ways to use MRIs. What Druzgal finds promising about the Utah study was how straightforward it was: Instead of requiring patients to perform a task during the brain scan, they simply needed to be still for about 10 minutes.