Scientists have linked differences in brain morphology—the volume and shape of the different brain regions—to specific social impairments. However, very few studies have focused on the relationship between the sensory aspects of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and brain morphology. In a recent study, a team of researchers from Japan and South Korea sought to address this knowledge gap.
ASD is a neurological condition which causes differences in brain development, social interactions, learning, and sensory input. Experts remain perplexed that in their pursuit of answers, more questions arise surrounding the disorder.
Sensory abnormalities are considered to be a core symptom of autism spectrum disorder, which manifests itself differently to people across the spectrum. Some people with ASD may experience hypersensitivity. For example, an individual with ASD may wear their socks inside out or none at all, because they cannot stand the seam across the top. Others, however, may experience insensitivity and require proprioceptive input, like deep pressure or pushing heavy objects to regulate themselves.
Led by Professor Hirotaka Kosaka from University of Fukui, Japan, the team recruited 43 adults with ASD and 84 adults with neurotypical development, and performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains. They used specialized software to detect morphological features of the brain.
First, the brain anatomies of people with ASD were compared against those who were considered neurotypical to determine shape and volume of specific brain regions. “We found marked correlations between the visual characteristics and the thickness of the orbitofrontal and lingual cortices as well as between the taste/smell characteristics and the hippocampal volume in adults with ASD,” remarks Professor Kosaka in a release. “Therefore, it’s possible that structural changes in the brains of adults with ASD may cause sensory abnormalities.”
While so many aspects of autism spectrum disorder remain a mystery, this small insight into the brain can help people and families of people with ASD to better understand the cause of atypical sensory reactions. As Dr. Habata explains: “By understanding that ASD symptoms could arise from structural problems in the brain, families will be less likely to blame themselves for poor parenting.”
From a more technical standpoint, MRI could help diagnose ASD better. “Magnetic resonance imaging is a non-invasive technique for gathering highly accurate anatomical information of the brain,” says senior researcher Dr. Minyoung Jung, from the Korea Brain Research Institute. “It could, therefore, help us better understand ASD symptoms that occur in the brain.”
This article was originally published in Transital Psychology.
Article written by Rhonda Errabelli