|Differences in white matter segments in autistic males, non-autistic siblings, and non-autistic participants: An intermediate phenotype approach
Tseng, Wen-Yih Isaac
SUSAN SHUR-FEN GAU
|autism spectrum disorder; diffusion spectrum imaging; intermediate phenotype; unaffected siblings; white matter properties
|SAGE PUBLICATIONS LTD
|Autism : the international journal of research and practice
White matter is the neural pathway that connects neurons in different brain regions. Although research has shown white matter differences between autistic and non-autistic people, little is known about the properties of white matter in non-autistic siblings. In addition, past studies often focused on the whole neural tracts; it is unclear where differences exist in specific segments of the tracts. This study identified neural segments that differed between autistic people, their non-autistic siblings, and the age- and non-autistic people. We found altered segments within the tracts connected to anterior brain regions corresponding to several higher cognitive functions (e.g. executive functions) in autistic people and non-autistic siblings. Segments connecting to regions for social cognition and Theory of Mind were altered only in autistic people, explaining a large portion of autistic traits and may serve as neuroimaging markers. Segments within the tracts associated with fewer autistic traits or connecting brain regions for diverse highly integrated functions showed compensatory increases in the microstructural properties in non-autistic siblings. Our findings suggest that differential white matter segments that are shared between autistic people and non-autistic siblings may serve as potential "intermediate phenotypes"-biological or neuropsychological characteristics in the causal link between genetics and symptoms-of autism. These findings shed light on a promising neuroimaging model to refine the intermediate phenotype of autism which may facilitate further identification of the genetic and biological bases of autism. Future research exploring links between compensatory segments and neurocognitive strengths in non-autistic siblings may help understand brain adaptation to autism.
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