Atypical age-dependent changes of white matter (WM) microstructure play a central role in abnormal brain maturation of the children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but their early manifestations have not been systematically characterized. The entire brain core WM voxels were surveyed to detect differences in WM microstructural development between 31 children with ASD of 2-7 years and 19 age-matched children with typical development (TD), using measurements of fractional anisotropy (FA) and radial diffusivity (RD) from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). The anatomical locations, distribution, and extent of the core WM voxels with atypical age-dependent changes in a specific tract or tract group were delineated and evaluated by integrating the skeletonized WM with a digital atlas. Exclusively, unidirectional FA increases and RD decreases in widespread WM tracts were revealed in children with ASD before 4 years, with bi-directional changes found for children with ASD of 2-7 years. Compared to progressive development that raised FA and lowered RD during 2-7 years in the TD group, flattened curves of WM maturation were found in multiple major WM tracts of all five tract groups, particularly associational and limbic tracts, in the ASD group with trend lines of ASD and TD crossed around 4 years. We found atypical age-dependent changes of FA and RD widely and heterogeneously distributed in WM tracts of children with ASD. The early higher WM microstructural integrity before 4 years reflects abnormal neural patterning, connectivity, and pruning that may contribute to aberrant behavioral and cognitive development in ASD. Hum Brain Mapp 37:819-832, 2016.
- White matter
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Clinical Neurology