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Brain Differences Found in Infants who Develop Autism

By Catherine Croft Swanwick, Ph.D. on February 17, 2012


Overview:  Differences in brain connectivity can be detected as early as six months of age, according to a study published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry.


Background:  As part of the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) Network, researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have been tracking infants at high risk of developing autism spectrum disorders (ASD) because an older sibling is affected.  They imaged the brains of 92 such infants using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).  DTI labels white matter fibers within the brain, allowing the visualization of brain connectivity.


What’s New:  The 28 infants who were later diagnosed with ASD showed a distinct pattern of brain connectivity when six months old, as well as abnormal brain development through 24 months of age.


Why It’s Important:  This suggests that brain imaging can potentially be used to detect “biomarkers” for autism, allowing early detection and treatment for infants before symptoms appear.


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