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Researchers identify new functional biomarker for autism in boys

News: Apr 20, 2016

Researchers have developed a new brain imaging measure to identify autism in boys. The method opens up new possibilities to track progress and improve treatment.

Researchers have developed a new method to map and track the function of brain circuits affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in boys using brain imaging. The method provides a quantitative measure of activity in a brain circuit associated with social interaction.


“We can now measure how well this circuit functions in individual patients." says Malin Björnsdotter, assistant professor at University of Gothenburg and lead author of the study.

The research is outlined in a paper, “Quantified Social Perception Circuit Activity as a Neurobiological Marker of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry. The paper focuses on the use of biomarkers, measurable indicators of a biological condition, to measure the function of the social perception circuit of the brain.

Complex symptoms

"The behavioral symptoms of ASD are so complex and varied that it is difficult to determine whether a new treatment is effective, especially within a realistic time frame," said Malin Björnsdotter, assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg and lead author of the paper. "Brain function markers may provide the specific and objective measures required to bridge this gap."

114 children and adolescents with and without an ASD diagnosis participated in the study. They were shown video clips of moving dots depicting human movement patterns during brain imaging. The researchers discovered that brain activity in the social perception circuits accurately detected ASD, but only in boys.


A clip shown for the participants. Video: Warren Jones

Studying girls

While this method currently only works for boys with autism, the researchers are studying girls with autism and elevated autistic traits to identify equivalent techniques that will work for them.

This new research has the potential to improve treatment for ASD by measuring changes in the social perception brain circuit in response to different interventions. The research is particularly relevant for ASD patients who are difficult to diagnose and treat by indicating whether behavioral, drug or a combination of the treatments will be most effective.

A first step

The authors emphasized that this research is still in the earliest days, pointing out that doctors’ offices and most hospitals do not have the specialized imaging equipment necessary to carry out the brain scans used by the team involved in this study.
"To really help patients we need to develop inexpensive, easy-to-use techniques that can be applied in any group, including infants and individuals with severe behavioral problems," said Dr. Björnsdotter. "This study is a first step toward that goal."

The article Quantified Social Perception Circuit Activity as a Neurobiological Marker of Autism Spectrum Disorder appears in JAMA: Psychiatry on April 20.

Press kit for download: https://gubox.box.com/malin-bjornsdotter-press-kit
(portraits, brain scan images showing social perception circuit activity in boys with and without ASD, and a clip from the video shown to the children in the study)
Portraits, photo credit: Elin Lindström Claessen / Brain scans: Malin Björnsdotter / Video: Warren Jones

Malin Björnsdotter, Researcher at Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health (CELAM) at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and Research Fellow at Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience (CSAN) på Linköpings universitet.





Originally published on: sahlgrenska.gu.se

Page Manager: Stefan Axelsson|Last update: 1/18/2016

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