Research Topic

Advanced neuroimaging methods for studying autism disorder

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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) that affect 1 in 150 children, and whose causes are still mostly unknown. Autistic symptomatology is characterized by severe impairments that mainly affect social interaction, while spare basic cognitive skills and do ...

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) that affect 1 in 150 children, and whose causes are still mostly unknown. Autistic symptomatology is characterized by severe impairments that mainly affect social interaction, while spare basic cognitive skills and do not imply emotional disturbance. Widespread abnormalities are also found in communication. Notably, autistic children usually have difficulties to develop language and in some circumstances do not even acquire meaningful speech. Many attempts have been made to provide neurobiological models of autism. Functional magnetic resonance imaging investigations have highlighted reduced responses in social key areas, as the amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and superior temporal sulcus. Furthermore, a recent study on functional connectivity in autism indicates abnormal patterns of both over- and under-connectivity in areas mediating ToM and in the mirror neuron system as well. However, MR structural studies on autistic subjects present discrepant results. During the last few years, neuroimaging methodologies continued to develop providing more sophisticated techniques for investigating brain structure and function. First of all we are talking about methods of structural, functional and effective connectivity that provides us with the knowledge about the information exchange between brain areas. Here are some examples: Structural connectivity, Functional connectivity, Effective connectivity, and Multi-voxel pattern analysis. The aim of this research topic is to present recent advances in the study of the neural deficits displayed by autism by presenting findings derived from the above methods. Understanding how patients differ from normal controls is of fundamental importance. Indeed, the ability to detect abnormalities in these patients is essential for diagnosis and treatment. For the first time, we will present theories and methods to study autism, that are strongly grounded in affective neuroscience. This state-of-the-art research topic brings together leading authorities to describe ways to work this developmental pathology. In sum, we will provide a trans disciplinary approach to the topic of autism from its neural bases to clinical implications. We will discuss the main features and extract basic principles underlying this widespread pathology. This area of research is young, complex, and challenging, but also exciting. While scientific evidence is slowly and partially emerging, no general consensus has been reached yet on how to interpret these early findings. This research topic is born from the idea that it is time that researchers in neuroscience and clinicians make a collective effort to deepen the understanding of autism by taking advantage of new methodologies to study the brain. Two main conceptual areas will be covered: basic research papers, and new neuroimaging protocols. The research topic will include articles from top researchers and clinicians in the field, and it covers original research and reviews articles.


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