Disrupted functional brain networks in autistic toddlers

Boersma, M., Kemner, C., de Reus, M. A., Collin, G., Snijders, T. M., Hofman, D., Buitelaar, J. K., Stam, C. J., & van den Heuvel, M. P. (2013). Disrupted functional brain networks in autistic toddlers. Brain Connectivity, 3(1), 41-49. doi:10.1089/brain.2012.0127.
Communication and integration of information between brain regions plays a key role in healthy brain function. Conversely, disruption in brain communication may lead to cognitive and behavioral problems. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by impaired social interactions and aberrant basic information processing. Aberrant brain connectivity patterns have indeed been hypothesized to be a key neural underpinning of autism. In this study, graph analytical tools are used to explore the possible deviant functional brain network organization in autism at a very early stage of brain development. Electroencephalography (EEG) recordings in 12 toddlers with autism (mean age 3.5 years) and 19 control subjects were used to assess interregional functional brain connectivity, with functional brain networks constructed at the level of temporal synchronization between brain regions underlying the EEG electrodes. Children with autism showed a significantly increased normalized path length and reduced normalized clustering, suggesting a reduced global communication capacity already during early brain development. In addition, whole brain connectivity was found to be significantly reduced in these young patients suggesting an overall under-connectivity of functional brain networks in autism. Our findings support the hypothesis of abnormal neural communication in autism, with deviating effects already present at the early stages of brain development
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