'Social Brain' Impaired In Children With Autism

First Posted: Oct 15, 2015 03:37 PM EDT

Researchers discovered that the "social" part of the brain in children with autism is underdeveloped, according to a recent study.

The study results showed that children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have something called hyper-perfusion, otherwise known as increased blood flow, to frontal regions of the brain that are essential in managing and gauging social interactions. As the brain continues to develop, blood flow is typically reduced. However, continuing hyper-perfusion in ASD participants suggests delayed neurodevelopment regarding socio-emotional cognition.

"The brain controls most of our behavior and changes in how brain areas work and communicate with each other can alter this behavior and lead to impairments associated with mental disorders," said study author Kay Jann, a postdoctoral researcher in the UCLA Department of Neurology, in a statement"When you match physiologic changes in the brain with behavioral impairment, you can start to understand the biological mechanisms of this disorder, which may help improve diagnosis, and, in time, treatment."

Researchers examined 17 children and young adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), comparing them to 22 normally developing youths. They used imaging technology with magnetically-labelled blood water to trace blood flow. They specifically looked for something known as default mode network in the participants, who were all matched by age, sex and IQ scores. 

From their research, the study authors also discovered reduced long-range connectivity between default mode network nodes located in the front and back of the brain in participants with ASD. Jann noted that a loss of connectivity suggests that information cannot properly flow between distant areas of the brain.

"The architecture of the brain follows a cost efficient wiring pattern that maximizes functionality with minimal energy consumption," Jann added. "This is not what we found in our ASD participants."

The study was published in the journal Brain and Behavior.

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