Structural and functional underconnectivity as a negative predictor for language in autism.
Verly M., Verhoeven J., Zink I., Mantini D., Van Oudenhove L., Lagae L., Sunaert S., Rommel N.
The development of language, social interaction, and communicative skills are remarkably different in the child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Atypical brain connectivity has frequently been reported in this patient population. However, the interplay between their brain connectivity and language performance remains largely understudied. Using diffusion tensor imaging tractography and resting-state fMRI, the authors explored the structural and functional connectivity of the language network and its relation to the language profile in a group of healthy control subjects (N = 25) and a group of children with ASD (N = 17). The authors hypothesized that in children with ASD, a neural connectivity deficit of the language network can be related to the observed abnormal language function. They found an absence of the right-hemispheric arcuate fascicle (AF) in 28% (7/25) of the healthy control children and in 59% (10/17) of the children with ASD. In contrast to healthy control children, the absence of the right-hemispheric AF in children with autism was related to a lower language performance as indicated by a lower verbal IQ, lower scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, and lower language scores on the Dutch version of the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF-4NL). In addition, through iterative fMRI data analyses, the language impairment of children with ASD could be linked to a marked loss of intrahemispheric functional connectivity between inferior frontal and superior temporal regions, known as the cortical language network. Both structural and functional underconnectivity patterns coincide and are related to an abnormal language function in children with ASD.