Infant Brain Changes Could Be Autism Predictor, Small Study Says Magnetic resonance imaging showing accelerated growth of brain surface area during an infant’s first year of life has allowed researchers to predict—with 80 percent accuracy in a small-scale study—whether the infant would later be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at 2 years old. The authors of the recent study ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   May 01, 2017
Infant Brain Changes Could Be Autism Predictor, Small Study Says
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Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   May 01, 2017
Infant Brain Changes Could Be Autism Predictor, Small Study Says
The ASHA Leader, May 2017, Vol. 22, 13. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB3.22052017.13
The ASHA Leader, May 2017, Vol. 22, 13. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB3.22052017.13
Magnetic resonance imaging showing accelerated growth of brain surface area during an infant’s first year of life has allowed researchers to predict—with 80 percent accuracy in a small-scale study—whether the infant would later be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at 2 years old.
The authors of the recent study say their findings point toward a future possibility of early detection of ASD—before behavioral symptoms emerge—in infants who have older siblings with ASD. Siblings of children with ASD have an increased risk of being diagnosed with the disorder.
Previous research has found brain enlargement in children with ASD, but its timing and relationship to the onset of symptoms had yet to be investigated, the study authors say. Their work is published in the journal Nature.
“We haven’t had a way to detect the biomarkers of autism before the condition sets in and symptoms develop,” says senior author Joseph Piven, the Thomas E. Castelloe Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. “Now we have very promising leads that suggest this may, in fact, be possible.”

The team created an algorithm that predicted 80 percent of the 15 high-risk infants who would go on to be diagnosed with ASD at 2 years old.

The researchers, led by Heather Cody Hazlett, a psychologist at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities and an assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill, studied a group of 106 high-risk infants, each with an older sibling with ASD, and a group of 42 low-risk infants, who did not have an immediate family history of ASD.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the children at 6 months, 12 months and 24 months, Hazlett and her team found hyperexpansion of the brain’s cortical surface area in the infants who would later be diagnosed with ASD when compared to neurotypical infants.
Using brain data from the MRIs, the team created an algorithm that predicted 80 percent of the 15 high-risk infants who would go on to be diagnosed with ASD at 2 years old.
The researchers are enrolling additional families for a similar study in hopes of replicating their findings.
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May 2017
Volume 22, Issue 5