Brain Connectivity Predicts Traits and Functioning in Autism

Lauren Kenworthy, PhD Associate professor of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry George Washington University School of Medicine Director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders Children’s National Health System

Dr. Kenworthy

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Lauren Kenworthy, PhD
Associate professor of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry
George Washington University School of Medicine
Director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Children’s National Health System

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Kenworthy: Connectivity among brain regions may account for variability in autism outcomes not explained by age or behavioral measures, according to a study. We have previously shown that behavioral assessments of intelligence, baseline adaptive behavior and executive functions in people with autism can explain some of the variation in outcomes and function, but we have not been able to explain all of the variance in outcome (e.g. Pugliese et al 2015a, 2015b).

In this study, we found that 44% of the study group experienced significant change in scores on adaptive behavior between the initial scan and follow-up. Connectivity between three resting-state networks, including the salience network, the default-mode network, and the frontoparietal task control network, was linked not only to future autistic behaviors but also to changes in autistic and adaptive behaviors over the post-scan period. Further, connectivity involving the salience network and associated brain regions was associated with improvement in adaptive behaviors, with 100% sensitivity and around 71% precision.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Kenworthy: Brains are made up of networks that work together to help us do things like get through our morning routine or read a social cue. This study found that differences in brain connectivity in individuals with autism can predict future outcomes in how they succeed in real-world settings which may help us better target treatment for these individuals in the future.

The goal of all this work is to link what we understand in the brain to what matters to people in their everyday lives.  This study is the first step in a much larger endeavor to help people with autism develop the skills they need to succeed.  It also is an important reminder to clinicians and parents that when people with autism without intellectual disability struggle to carry out seemingly simple tasks of daily living, it doesn’t mean that they are lazy or don’t care, it reflects difference in brain function.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Kenworthy: We are working to understand where we can develop interventions that actually improve brain connectivity in people with autism spectrum disorders.

Citation:

Resting-state functional connectivity predicts longitudinal change in autistic traits and adaptive functioning in autism
Mark Plitt, Kelly Anne Barnes, Gregory L. Wallace, Lauren Kenworthy, and Alex Martin


PNAS 2015 ; published ahead of print November 16, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1510098112

Lauren Kenworthy, PhD (2015). Brain Connectivity Predicts Traits and Functioning in Autism MedicalResearch.com

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