A Moment of Science

fMRIs Could Help Diagnose Autism More Accurately

Could brain scans be used to detect autism? A new Yale School of Medicine study is using fMRI images to map the brain of autism patients.

puzzle pieces connected together

Photo: Horia Varlan (flickr)

Researchers at Yale are hoping to solve the autism puzzle.

Scientists could be on the way to being able to diagnose autism more accurately. A study at Yale School of Medicine has shown that MRIs can be used to look at patterns in the brain.

Certain patterns may characterize the genetic vulnerability to developing a type of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers hope that this experiment will help lead to earlier detection of autism.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

ASD causes a person to have impaired communication and social interaction. The disorder also disrupts the brain’s ability to recognize natural movements of people. Because of this disruption, people with ASD have problems in social settings.

While the exact cause of autism is unknown, autism is strongly linked to genetics. The disorder is very common and debilitating.

What Happened During The Experiment?

fMRIs were used to study the brains of children with autism. Next, researchers scanned the brains of the children’s unaffected siblings. 62 children were tested and were aged 4 to 17.

The Results

Researchers found three different “neural signatures” during the experiment:

  • Trait Markers: Areas of the brain with reduced activity in children with ASD and their siblings
  • State Markers: Areas of the brain that show reduced activity only for children with ASD
  • Compensatory Activity: Enhanced brain activity seen only in unaffected siblings

Researchers believe that that Compensatory Activity may show a developmental process by which the siblings overcame a genetic predisposition to develop autism spectrum disorder.

Martha Kaiser, a postdoctoral associate in the Yale Child Study Center, notes that “this study may contribute to a better understanding of the brain basis of ASD, and the genetic and molecular origin of the disorder.”

In the end, the hope is that more research on people with ASD and their siblings will help determine the cause of the disorder.

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Margaret Aprison

Margaret is a graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Psychology. The daughter of two scientists, Margaret has been surrounded by the subject her entire life. She enjoys social media, writing, television, and, of course, science!

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