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Mol Autism. 2017 Jul 26;8:39. doi: 10.1186/s13229-017-0156-6. eCollection 2017.

Globally weaker and topologically different: resting-state connectivity in youth with autism.

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Center for Autism Research and Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 3535 Market Street, Ste 860, Philadelphia, PA 19104 USA.
Department of Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine, The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA USA.
Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC USA.
Department of Pediatrics, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA USA.
Departments of Bioengineering and Electrical & Systems Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA USA.



There is a lack of agreement about functional connectivity differences in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Studies using absolute strength have found reduced connectivity, while those using relative strength--a measure of system topology--reveal mostly enhanced connectivity. We hypothesized that mixed findings may be driven by the metric of functional connectivity.


Resting-state echo planar 3 T functional magnetic resonance imaging scans were acquired on a Siemens Verio Scanner from 6 to 17-year-old youth with ASD (n = 81) and a matched typically developing control group (n = 82). All functional time series data were preprocessed using a confound regression procedure that has been previously validated in large-scale developmental datasets. It has also been shown to be highly effective at reducing the influence of motion artifact on connectivity data. We extracted time series data from a 333-node parcellation scheme, which was previously mapped to 13 functional systems. A Pearson's correlation was calculated and transformed to Fisher's z between every pair of nodes to create a weighted 333 × 333 adjacency matrix. Mean absolute functional connectivity strength was the mean Fisher's z of the matrix. Relative functional connectivity was corrected for individual differences in mean absolute functional connectivity (i.e., each connection in the matrix was divided by their mean z), and functional connectivity was evaluated within and across each of the functional networks in the parcellation scheme.


Absolute functional connectivity strength was lower in ASD, and lower functional connectivity was correlated with greater ASD symptom severity. Relative functional connectivity was higher for the ASD group in the ventral attention and retrosplenial-temporal systems, with lower cross-system functional connectivity between the ventral attention and somatomotor-mouth systems. Functional connectivity within the ventral attention and retro-splenial systems correlated significantly with ASD symptom severity.


Within a context of globally weaker functional connectivity, youth with ASD have an atypical topology of brain systems that support social perception and communication. This study clarifies the mixed results reported previously and demonstrates that the functional connectivity metric influences the observed direction of functional connectivity differences for individuals with ASD.


Attention; Autism spectrum disorder; Children; Intrinsic networks; Social cognition

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