Research published in the journal Brain and Behavior by experts of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), revealed how the “social part” of the brain is undeveloped in children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The investigation showed that people with this condition have something called hyper- perfusion, which means that they have an increase of blood flow that goes through the frontal regions of the brain. This area of the brain manages things related with social interaction. The Hyper-perfusion in ASD showed that when the brain continues to develop, the blood flow increases exaggeratedly, affecting the social capacities of the person and delaying the neurodevelopment regarding socio-emotional cognition.

The team hypothesized that ASD might be caused by increased or decreased connectivity within specific neural networks that form the “social brain”. Photo: Jajjapedia

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “autism” generally refers to two symptoms: limited social and communication skills and repetitive, restrictive or stereotyped patterns of behavior. The term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” refers to a range of different disorders, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, Autistic Disorder and Rett’s Syndrome.

“The brain controls most of our behavior and changes in how brain areas work and communicate with each other can alter this behavior and lead to impairments associated with mental disorders […] When you match physiologic changes in the brain with behavioral impairment, you can start to understand the biological mechanisms of this disorder, which may help improve diagnosis, and, in time, treatment” said study’s first author Dr. Kay Jann, a postdoctoral researcher in the UCLA Department of Neurology as reported in the research.

New Methods, new results

The study revealed how the specialists used an advanced technology instrument to track arterial spin labeling perfusion. This instrument is better known as medical resonance imaging (MRI) and it was used to study ASD.

This is the first time that researchers used imaging technology to track brains flows as a strong energy measure. The procedure has been already used to track and investigate other brain disorders such as schizophrenia. The technique includes magnetically labeled blood water as a tracer to measure the blood flow.

Moreover, they also included other properties to complete the study: The organization and strength of connections within intrinsic neural interactions. These properties are part of the functional organization of the brain and its accompanying energy demands.

“In neurocognitive or neuropsychiatric disorders, these two crucial properties are often found to be altered.” said study senior author Dr. Danny J.J. Wang, an associate professor of neurology at UCLA, in the report.

The study

Researchers studied 17 prospects with high- functioning ASD and 22 normally developing children and adolescents. Groups were classified by age 7 – 17 years old, gender, and IQ scores.

The results showed a remarkable difference between the two groups: In children with ASD, there was a pattern of widespread increased hyper-fusion, a consequence of the increment of oxygen metabolism in frontal brain areas. This suggested that they had an overabundance of neurons and their social-emotional capacities where more underdeveloped than the group that didn’t have ASD.

Furthermore, Dr. Jann explained in the post that a loss of connectivity means information cannot properly flow between distant areas of the brain.

“The architecture of the brain follows a cost efficient wiring pattern that maximizes functionality with minimal energy consumption […] this is not what we found in our ASD participants.”

Source: Medical Research