Image_2_Thalamocortical Hyperconnectivity and Amygdala-Cortical Hypoconnectivity in Male Patients With Autism Spectrum Disorder.tif

Background: Analyses of resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) have been performed to investigate pathophysiological changes in the brains of patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) relative to typically developing controls (CTLs). However, the results of these previous studies, which have reported mixed patterns of hypo- and hyperconnectivity, are controversial, likely due to the small sample sizes and limited age range of included participants.

Methods: To overcome this issue, we analyzed multisite neuroimaging data from a large sample (n = 626) of male participants aged between 5 and 29 years (mean age = 13 years). The rs-fMRI data were preprocessed using SPM12 and DPARSF software, and signal changes in 90 brain regions were extracted. Multiple linear regression was used to exclude the effect of site differences in connectivity data. Subcortical–cortical connectivity was computed using connectivities in the hippocampus, amygdala, caudate nucleus, putamen, pallidum, and thalamus. Eighty-eight connectivities in each structure were compared between patients with ASD and CTLs using multiple linear regression with group, age, and age × group interactions, head movement parameters, and overall connectivity as variables.

Results: After correcting for multiple comparisons, patients in the ASD group exhibited significant increases in connectivity between the thalamus and 19 cortical regions distributed throughout the fronto-parietal lobes, including the temporo-parietal junction and posterior cingulate cortices. In addition, there were significant decreases in connectivity between the amygdala and six cortical regions. The mean effect size of hyperconnectivity (0.25) was greater than that for hypoconnectivity (0.08). No other subcortical structures showed significant group differences. A group-by-age interaction was observed for connectivity between the thalamus and motor-somatosensory areas.

Conclusions: These results demonstrate that pathophysiological changes associated with ASD are more likely related to thalamocortical hyperconnectivity than to amygdala-cortical hypoconnectivity. Future studies should examine full sets of clinical and behavioral symptoms in combination with functional connectivity to explore possible biomarkers for ASD.