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Front. Hum. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00006

Atypical flexibility in dynamic functional connectivity quantifies the severity in autism spectrum disorder

  • 1International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, India
  • 2University of Hyderabad, India
  • 3Department of Neurology, National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), India

Resting-state functional connectivity (FC) analyses have shown atypical connectivity in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as compared to typically developing (TD). However, this view emerges from investigating static FC overlooking the whole brain transient connectivity patterns. In our study, we investigated how age and disease influence the dynamic changes in functional connectivity of TD and ASD. We used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) data stratified into three cohorts: children (7-11 years), adolescents (12-17 years), and adults (18+) for the analysis. The dynamic variability in the connection strength and the modular organization in terms of measures such as flexiblity, cohesion strength and disjointness were explored for each subject to characterize the differences between ASD and TD.
In ASD, we observed significantly higher inter-subject dynamic variability in connection strength as compared to TD. This hyper-variability relates to the symptom severity in ASD. We found that whole-brain flexibility correlates with static modularity only in TD. Further, we observed a core-periphery organization in the resting-state, with Sensorimotor and Visual regions in the rigid core; and DMN and attention areas in the flexible periphery. TD also develops a more cohesive organization of sensorimotor areas. However, in ASD we found a strong positive correlation of symptom severity with flexibility of rigid areas and with disjointness of sensorimotor areas. The
regions of the brain showing high predictive power of symptom severity were distributed across the
cortex, with stronger bearings in the frontal, motor and occipital cortices. Our study demonstrates that the dynamic framework best characterizes the variability in ASD.

Keywords: resting-state functional MRI, Autism (ASD), Flexibility, Dynamic connectivity, ABIDE

Received: 14 Aug 2018; Accepted: 08 Jan 2019.

Edited by:

Juan H. Zhou, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore

Reviewed by:

Alessandro Tonacci, Istituto di Fisiologia Clinica (IFC), Italy
Xing Qian, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore  

Copyright: © 2019 Harlalka, Bapi, Vinod and Roy. 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) and the copyright owner(s) 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. Dipanjan Roy, National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Department of Neurology, Gurgaon, India, dipanjan.nbrc@gov.in