How the brain may find a way around autism
Research at the medical school’s Child Study Center (CSC) has shown that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can disrupt children’s ability to recognize “biological motion,” the distinctive repertoire of movements made by living things, including other people.
In a study reported in the December 7 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Kevin Pelphrey, Ph.D., Harris Associate Professor in the CSC, first author Martha D. Kaiser, Ph.D., and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of children with autism, their unaffected siblings, and typically developing children as the children watched animations of biological movement. The team identified three distinct “neural signatures”: trait markers — reduced regions of activity in both children with ASD and their unaffected siblings; state markers — reduced activity seen only in children with ASD; and compensatory activity — enhanced activity seen only in unaffected siblings of ASD patients.
This enhanced compensatory brain activity is of particular interest, say the researchers, because it may reflect a developmental process by which unaffected children overcome a genetic predisposition to develop ASD.