Medical Technology

Neurological Basis for Sensory Abnormalities in Autism?

Alterations in brain morphology may be responsible for the sensory abnormalities commonly seen in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), imaging research suggests.

This could pave the way for better diagnostic approaches for ASD beyond the traditional behavioral indicators of the condition, investigators note.

“These results provide valuable information on brain morphological changes as the neurological basis of sensory abnormalities in ASD,” they write.

“It’s possible that structural changes in the brains of adults with ASD may cause sensory abnormalities,” lead investigator Hirotaka Kosaka, MD, PhD, Department of Neuropsychiatry, University of Fukui, Japan, added in a news release.

The findings were published online December 6 in Translational Psychiatry.

“Sense of Relief”

The study included 43 adults with ASD and 84 adults with neurotypical development. All underwent brain MRI to quantify various morphological features of brain anatomy. Participants also completed the Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile (AASP), a validated self-administered sensory processing scoring system.

Results revealed significant correlations between the thickness of the lingual gyrus and orbitofrontal cortices and visual characteristics, as well as between hippocampal volume and smell and taste characteristics in the ASD group.

There was also clear evidence linking differences in brain morphology with atypical visual, taste, and smell characteristics in those with ASD, investigators note.

From a technical standpoint, MRI could help to diagnose ASD, they add.

MRI is a “noninvasive technique for gathering highly accurate anatomical information of the brain. It could, therefore, help us better understand ASD symptoms that occur in brain,” principal investigator Minyoung Jung, Korea Brain Research Institute, Daegu, South Korea, said in the release.

From a practical standpoint, these findings could also benefit those with ASD and their families.

“The burden on family members caring for ASD individuals is enormous, and many of them suffer from anxiety,” lead author Kaie Habata, also with the University of Fukui, said in the same release.

“In clinical settings, giving such families an appropriate diagnosis and sharing information related to the disease can provide them a sense of relief. By understanding that ASD symptoms could arise from structural problems in the brain, families will be less likely to blame themselves for poor parenting,” Habata added.

The study was funded by the Korea Brain Research Institute and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of Japan. The investigators have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Transl Psychiatry. 2021;11:616. Full text

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