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Brain Connect. 2018 Nov;8(9):558-566. doi: 10.1089/brain.2018.0614.

Somatosensory Regions Show Limited Functional Connectivity Differences in Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Cechmanek B1,2,3, Johnston H2,3,4, Vazhappilly S2,3,5, Lebel C2,3,6,7, Bray S2,3,6,7.

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1 Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program, University of Calgary , Calgary, Canada .
2 Child and Adolescent Imaging Research (CAIR) Program, University of Calgary , Calgary, Canada .
3 Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), University of Calgary , Calgary, Canada .
4 Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary , Calgary, Canada .
5 Neuroscience Program, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary , Calgary, Canada .
6 Department of Radiology and Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary , Calgary, Canada .
7 Department of Pediatrics, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary , Calgary, Canada .


An estimated 70-90% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have sensory symptoms, which may present as hyper- or hyporesponsivity in one or more sensory modalities. These sensitivities correlate with social symptoms, activity, and social interaction levels. Interestingly, sensory symptoms appear to be most prevalent in late childhood, suggesting a developmental component. Although the neural basis of sensory sensitivities remains unclear, atypical functional connectivity of sensory brain regions has been suggested as a potential mechanism. Tactile sensitivities are among the most predictive of social functioning, yet no studies to our knowledge have examined somatosensory functional connectivity in children and adolescents with ASD, when symptoms are typically most prominent. In this study, we used human data from the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE-I) to assess functional connectivity differences of somatosensory regions during resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging, in youth aged 8-15 years. After head motion exclusion, our sample included 67 participants with ASD and 121 typically developing controls. We additionally examined associations between functional connectivity and age, as well as ASD symptom severity. Together, these seed-based analyses showed limited differences in functional connectivity between groups, either to hypothesized target regions or in terms of global connectivity. Our findings suggest that hyper- or hyposomatosensory functional connectivity at rest is not a population-level feature in ASD. However, this does not preclude increased variability of somatosensory networks across the ASD population. Furthermore, as sensory sensitivities were not specifically assessed in this sample, future studies may be better able to identify patterns of functional connectivity, reflecting individual differences in sensory symptoms.


autism spectrum disorder; functional connectivity MRI; resting state; sensorimotor system

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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