'Network' analysis of the brain may explain features of autism
EEGs show structural differences in brain connectionsA look at how the brain processes information finds a distinct pattern in children with autism spectrum disorders. Using EEGs to track the brain's electrical cross-talk, researchers from Boston Children's Hospital have found a structural difference in brain connections. Compared with neurotypical children, those with autism have multiple redundant connections between neighboring brain areas at the expense of long-distance links.
The study, using a "network analysis" like that used to study airlines or electrical grids, may help in understanding some classic behaviors in autism. It was published February 27 in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Medicine, accompanied by a commentary.
"We examined brain networks as a whole in terms of their capacity to transfer and process information," says Jurriaan Peters, MD, of the Department of Neurology at Boston Children's Hospital, who is co-first author of the paper with Maxime Taquet, a PhD student in Boston Children's Computational Radiology Laboratory. "What we found may well change the way we look at the brains of autistic children."
Peters, Taquet and senior authors Simon Warfield, PhD, of the Computational Radiology Laboratory and Mustafa Sahin, MD, PhD, of Neurology, analyzed EEG recordings from two groups of autistic children: 16 children with classic autism, and 14 children whose autism is part of a genetic syndrome known as tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC). They compared these readings with EEGs from two control groups—46 healthy neurotypical children and 29 children with TSC but not autism.
In both groups with autism, there were more short-range connections within different brain region, but fewer connections linking far-flung areas.
A brain network that favors short-range over long-range connections seems to be consistent with autism's classic cognitive profile—a child who excels at specific, focused tasks like memorizing streets, but who cannot integrate information across different brain areas into higher-order concepts.