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Brain. 2014 Jun;137(Pt 6):1799-812. doi: 10.1093/brain/awu083. Epub 2014 Apr 22.

Longitudinal changes in cortical thickness in autism and typical development.

Author information

1
1 Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA2 Department of Neurology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA3 Primary Children's Medical Centre, Salt Lake City, UT, USA brandon.zielinski@hsc.utah.edu.
2
1 Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA4 Department of Radiology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
3
4 Department of Radiology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
4
5 Department of Psychology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
5
6 Neuroscience Centre, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA.
6
4 Department of Radiology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA7 Interdepartmental Program in Neuroscience, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
7
8 Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA9 School of Computing, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
8
8 Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
9
10 Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behaviour, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA.
10
11 Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA12 Department of Biostatistics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA13 Neurostatistics Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, USA.
11
10 Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behaviour, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA14 Department of Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA15 Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA.
12
6 Neuroscience Centre, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA16 Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA.
13
10 Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behaviour, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA15 Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA.

Abstract

The natural history of brain growth in autism spectrum disorders remains unclear. Cross-sectional studies have identified regional abnormalities in brain volume and cortical thickness in autism, although substantial discrepancies have been reported. Preliminary longitudinal studies using two time points and small samples have identified specific regional differences in cortical thickness in the disorder. To clarify age-related trajectories of cortical development, we examined longitudinal changes in cortical thickness within a large mixed cross-sectional and longitudinal sample of autistic subjects and age- and gender-matched typically developing controls. Three hundred and forty-five magnetic resonance imaging scans were examined from 97 males with autism (mean age = 16.8 years; range 3-36 years) and 60 males with typical development (mean age = 18 years; range 4-39 years), with an average interscan interval of 2.6 years. FreeSurfer image analysis software was used to parcellate the cortex into 34 regions of interest per hemisphere and to calculate mean cortical thickness for each region. Longitudinal linear mixed effects models were used to further characterize these findings and identify regions with between-group differences in longitudinal age-related trajectories. Using mean age at time of first scan as a reference (15 years), differences were observed in bilateral inferior frontal gyrus, pars opercularis and pars triangularis, right caudal middle frontal and left rostral middle frontal regions, and left frontal pole. However, group differences in cortical thickness varied by developmental stage, and were influenced by IQ. Differences in age-related trajectories emerged in bilateral parietal and occipital regions (postcentral gyrus, cuneus, lingual gyrus, pericalcarine cortex), left frontal regions (pars opercularis, rostral middle frontal and frontal pole), left supramarginal gyrus, and right transverse temporal gyrus, superior parietal lobule, and paracentral, lateral orbitofrontal, and lateral occipital regions. We suggest that abnormal cortical development in autism spectrum disorders undergoes three distinct phases: accelerated expansion in early childhood, accelerated thinning in later childhood and adolescence, and decelerated thinning in early adulthood. Moreover, cortical thickness abnormalities in autism spectrum disorders are region-specific, vary with age, and may remain dynamic well into adulthood.

KEYWORDS:

MRI; autism; brain development; developmental neuroimaging; human brain mapping

PMID:
24755274
PMCID:
PMC4032101
DOI:
10.1093/brain/awu083
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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