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Front. Neurol. | doi: 10.3389/fneur.2017.00615

Structural Covariance of Sensory Networks, the Cerebellum, and Amygdala in Autism Spectrum Disorder

 Garrett J. Cardon1, 2, Susan Hepburn3 and  Donald C. Rojas1*
  • 1Psychology, Colorado State University, United States
  • 2Psychiatry, University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, United States
  • 3Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Colorado State University, United States

Sensory dysfunction is a core symptom of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and abnormalities with sensory responsivity and processing can be extremely debilitating to ASD patients and their families. However, relatively little is known about the underlying neuroanatomical and neurophysiological factors that lead to sensory abnormalities in ASD. Investigation into these aspects of ASD could lead to significant advancements in our general knowledge about ASD, as well as provide targets for treatment and inform diagnostic procedures. Thus, the current study aimed to measure the covariation of volumes of brain structures (i.e., structural magnetic resonance imaging; MRI) that may be involved in abnormal sensory processing, in order to infer connectivity of these brain regions. Specifically, we quantified the structural covariation of sensory-related cerebral cortical structures, in addition to the cerebellum and amygdala by computing partial correlations between the structural volumes of these structures. These analyses were performed in participants with ASD (n = 36), as well as typically developing peers (n = 32). Results showed decreased structural covariation between sensory-related cortical structures, especially between the left and right cerebral hemispheres, in participants with ASD. In contrast, these same participants presented with increased structural covariation of structures in the right cerebral hemisphere. Additionally, sensory-related cerebral structures exhibited decreased structural covariation with functionally identified cerebellar networks. Also, the left amygdala showed significantly increased structural covariation with cerebral structures related to visual processing. Taken together, these results may suggest several patterns of altered connectivity both within and between cerebral cortices and other brain structures that may be related to sensory processing. □

Keywords: Structural covariation, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory dysfunction, Cerebellum, Amygdala

Received: 07 Jun 2017; Accepted: 03 Nov 2017.

Edited by:

Christian Gaser, Friedrich Schiller, Universität Jena, Germany

Reviewed by:

Jussi Tohka, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
Ralf Tepest, University of Cologne, Germany  

Copyright: © 2017 Cardon, Hepburn and Rojas. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Donald C. Rojas, Colorado State University, Psychology, Fort Collins, CO, United States, don.rojas@colostate.edu