Summary: Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who have language impairment show lower gray matter volume and greater gyrification in the temporal and frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex, which are crucial for language function. The study findings could help design special education programs for children with autism by understanding the structural characteristics that contribute to behavioral deficits.
Russian and American researchers found that language impairment in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was associated with lower gray matter volume and greater gyrification in the temporal and frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex. These regions play an essential role in the functioning of language.
Understanding the structural features that underlie behavioral deficits can help design special education programs for children with autism.
An article containing the results of the study has been published in Scientific reports.
Autism spectrum disorder is typically characterized by problems with social interaction and communication, as well as stereotypical behaviors. These symptoms are often attributed to genetic factors that impact the development of the nervous system.
Children with ASD frequently experience language difficulties, ranging from mild speech impediments to a complete inability to communicate verbally. These difficulties can become barriers to effective communication and social interaction. But the neurobiological underpinnings of these disorders remain poorly understood, while existing data are inconsistent.
Researchers from HSE University, Moscow State University of Psychology and Education, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute investigated the association between structural brain abnormalities and language impairment in children with ASD .
A total of 36 school-aged children participated in the study, including 18 children with ASD and 18 age- and sex-matched controls, 13 boys in each group. Structural whole-brain MRIs were acquired for each child and behavioral tests were used to measure their language skills.
Structural MRI can assess various anatomical features of the human brain, such as white and gray matter volume, cerebrospinal fluid, gyrus depth, and gray matter thickness in different regions of the brain.
Gray matter refers to the bodies of nerve cells, while white matter is made up of bundles of axons – connections between these cells, covered with a myelin sheath.
Comparing the structural MRI results for the group of children with ASD and the control group of typically developing children, the researchers found no significant difference in white matter volume in any of their brain regions.
In contrast, children with ASD had significantly lower gray matter thickness and greater cortical gyrification compared to the control group.
Further analysis revealed that children’s language abilities were significantly correlated with gray matter thickness and gyrification of cortical regions that are critically involved in speech production, including the frontal and temporal lobes. .
Since differences in gray matter have been observed between children with ASD and typically developing controls, it can be inferred that the mechanism of growth of nerve cell bodies, rather than their connections, may be disrupted in children. with ASD.
Children with ASD who had lower gray matter volumes in language-related domains had more pronounced language impairment. The researchers also observed another relevant pattern: the greater the gyrification, the more severe the autistic traits.
“Our results contradict the theory that early atypical brain development in autistic children normalizes by middle school age (7-10 years).
“To determine the age at which the nervous system can be restored, we need to continue to study not only toddlers and preschoolers with ASD, but also school-aged children and adults with ASD. , since the developmental characteristics of their nervous system may differ. Research on the latter two groups has been very limited so far,” says Alina Minnigulova, junior researcher at the HSE Language and Brain Centre.
According to the authors, identifying specific structural features that underlie behavioral deficits can help design special education programs for children with autism.
About this autism and language research news
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Original research: Free access.
“Structural brain abnormalities and their association with language impairment in school-aged children with autism spectrum disorders” by Vardan Arutiunian et al. Scientific reports
Structural brain abnormalities and their association with language impairment in school-aged children with autism spectrum disorders
Language impairment is comorbid in most children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but its neural basis is poorly understood.
Using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the present study provides whole-brain comparison of volume- and surface-based features between groups of children with and without ASD and investigates the relationships between these features in the Language-related domains and language abilities of children with ASD measured with standardized tools.
A total of 36 school-aged children participated in the study: 18 children with ASD and 18 age- and sex-matched controls.
The results revealed that several regions differed between groups of children in gray matter volume, gray matter thickness, gyrification, and cortical complexity (fractal dimension).
White matter volume and sulcus depth did not differ between groups of children in any region. Importantly, gray matter thickness and gyrification of language-related areas were related to language functioning in children with ASD.
Thus, the results of the present study shed light on structural brain abnormalities associated with language impairment in ASD.