According to a recently published study, functional MRI (fMRI) appears to be a promising way to diagnose autism-type disorders and to give the disease category some objectivity.
The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, was conducted by Inna Fishman, PhD, of San Diego State University, and colleagues, who performed resting-state fMRI scans on 25 adolescents 11-18 years old with autism spectrum diagnoses, as well as 25 controls matched for age, nonverbal IQ, and handedness.
Their findings indicated that connectivity within and between brain regions was different between patients and controls. The autistic kids, the researchers wrote, "showed a mixed pattern of both over- and under-connectivity in the Theory of Mind network, which was associated with greater social impairment."
Theory of Mind is a term for the ability to sense what others are thinking from their words, facial expressions, body language, and other cues.
"Increased connectivity ... was detected primarily between the regions of the mirror neuron system and the Theory of Mind, and was correlated with socio-communicative measures."
The findings were further reinforced when the researchers limited their analysis of the data to the fifteen autistic kids with the greatest impairments and their matched controls.
These aren't the first findings to point towards connectivity disturbances, and while they haven't been linked with one hundred percent certainty to brain structure, they add to the growing body of evidence supporting such a link.
While this study and others related to using fMRI in autism may help with diagnosis-- which in and of itself would be a huge leap forward-- none of it sheds any light on the causes of autism. On top of that, studies like this one need to be replicated in larger numbers to gain support in the wider scientific community.
But as many experts have pointed out, an objective basis for the disease and an objective marker for diagnosing the disease would certainly contribute to a greater acceptance of autism disorders beyond even the scientific community.
Source: MedPage Today