'Idiosyncratic' brain patterns in autism discovered

Scientists have discovered unique synchronisation patterns in brains of individuals with autism, a finding that may lead to early diagnosis and treatment of the disorder.

PTI| Updated: Jan 20, 2015, 14:46 PM IST

Washington: Scientists have discovered unique synchronisation patterns in brains of individuals with autism, a finding that may lead to early diagnosis and treatment of the disorder.

The study led by scientists at the Weizmann Institute and Carnegie Mellon University found that brains of those with the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) display unique synchronisation patterns each in its own, individual way.

"Identifying brain profiles that differ from the pattern observed in typically developing individuals is crucial not only in that it allows researchers to begin to understand the differences that arise in ASD but, in this case, it opens up the possibility that there are many altered brain profiles all of which fall under the umbrella of 'autism' or 'autisms,'" said Marlene Behrmann, the George A and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon and co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.

To investigate the issue of connectivity in ASD, the researchers analysed data obtained from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies conducted while the participants were at rest.

"Resting-state brain studies are important because that is when patterns emerge spontaneously, allowing us to see how various brain areas naturally connect and synchronise their activity," said Avital Hahamy, a PhD student in Weizmann's Neurobiology Department.

In a careful comparison of the details of these intricate synchronisation patterns, the scientists discovered an intriguing difference between the control and ASD groups: the control participants' brains had substantially similar connectivity profiles across different individuals, while those with ASD showed a remarkably different phenomenon.

Those with autism tended to display much more unique patterns - each in its own, individual way.

Researchers said the synchronisation patterns seen in the control group were "conformist" relative to those in the ASD group, which they termed "idiosyncratic."

Differences between the synchronisation patterns in the autism and control groups could be explained by the way individuals in the two groups interact and communicate with their environment.

"From a young age, the average, typical person's brain networks get molded by intensive interaction with people and the mutual environmental factors," Hahamy said.

"Such shared experiences could tend to make the synchronization patterns in the control group's resting brains more similar to each other.

"It is possible that in ASD, as interactions with the environment are disrupted, each one develops a more uniquely individualistic brain organisation pattern," Hahamy said.

The study is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.