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AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2011 Oct;32(9):1607-13. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A2558. Epub 2011 Jul 28.

Structural neural phenotype of autism: preliminary evidence from a diffusion tensor imaging study using tract-based spatial statistics.

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Yale Child Study Center; Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.



There is mounting evidence suggesting widespread aberrations in neural connectivity as the underlying neurobiology of autism. Using DTI to assess white matter abnormalities, this study implemented a voxelwise analysis and tract-labeling strategy to test for a structural neural phenotype in autism.


Subjects included 15 boys with autism and 8 controls, group-matched on age, cognitive functioning, sex, and handedness. DTI data were obtained by using a 3T scanner. FSL, including TBSS, was used to process and analyze DTI data where FA was chosen as the primary measure of fiber tract integrity. Affected voxels were labeled by using an integrated white matter tractography atlas. Post hoc correlation analyses were performed between FA of each affected fiber tract and scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale.


The autism group exhibited bilateral reductions in FA involving numerous association, commissural, and projection tracts, with the most severely affected being the forceps minor. The most affected association tracts were the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus and superior longitudinal fasciculus. There were no areas of increased FA in the autism group. All post hoc correlation analyses became nonsignificant after controlling for multiple comparisons.


This study provides preliminary evidence of reduced FA along many long-range fiber tracts in autism, suggesting aberrant long-range corticocortical connectivity. Although the spatial distribution of these findings suggests widespread abnormalities, there are major differences in the degree to which different tracts are affected, suggesting a more specific neural phenotype in autism.

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