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1.  Effects of age and symptomatology on cortical thickness in autism spectrum disorders 
Several brain regions show structural and functional abnormalities in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but the developmental trajectory of abnormalities in these structures and how they may relate to social and communicative impairments are still unclear. We assessed the effects of age on cortical thickness in individuals with ASD, between the ages of 7 and 39 years in comparison to typically developing controls. Additionally, we examined differences in cortical thickness in relation to symptomatology in the ASD group, and their association with age. Analyses were conducted using a general linear model, controlling for sex. Social and communication scores from the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) were correlated with the thickness of regions implicated in those functions. Controls showed widespread cortical thinning relative to the ASD group. Within regions-of-interest, increased thickness in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex was associated with poorer social scores. Additionally, a significant interaction between age and social impairment was found in the orbitofrontal cortex, with more impaired younger children having decreased thickness in this region. These results suggest that differential neurodevelopmental trajectories are present in individuals with ASD and some differences are associated with diagnostic behaviours.
doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2012.08.004
PMCID: PMC3652338  PMID: 23678367
Autism spectrum disorders; Structural MRI; Cortical thickness; Social impairment; Developmental changes
2.  The 5-HT2A receptor and serotonin transporter in Asperger’s Disorder: a PET study with [11C]MDL 100907 and [11C]DASB 
Psychiatry research  2011;194(3):230-234.
Evidence from biochemical, imaging, and treatment studies suggest abnormalities of the serotonin system in autism spectrum disorders, in particular in frontolimbic areas of the brain. We used the radiotracers [11C]MDL 100907 and [11C]DASB to characterize the 5-HT2A receptor and serotonin transporter in Asperger’s Disorder. 17 individuals with Asperger’s Disorder (age = 34.3 ± 11.1 yr) and 17 healthy controls (age = 33.0 ± 9.6 yr) were scanned with [11C]MDL 100907. Of the 17 patients, eight (age = 29.7 ± 7.0 yr) were also scanned with [11C]DASB, as were eight healthy controls (age = 28.7 ± 7.0 yr). Patients with Asperger’s Disorder and healthy control subjects were matched for age, gender, and ethnicity, and all had normal intelligence. Metabolite-corrected arterial plasma inputs were collected and data analyzed by 2 tissue-compartment modeling. The primary outcome measure was regional binding potential BPND. Neither regional [11C]MDL 100907 BPND nor [11C]DASB BPND were statistically different between the Asperger’s and healthy subjects. This study failed to find significant alterations in binding parameters of 5-HT2A receptors and serotonin transporters in adult subjects with Asperger’s Disorder.
doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2011.04.007
PMCID: PMC3225493  PMID: 22079057
autism spectrum disorders; 5-HT2A receptor; Asperger’s Disorder; positron emission tomography; serotonin transporter; serotonin
3.  Intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in the treatment of adults with autism spectrum disorders: a randomized controlled trial 
Molecular Autism  2012;3:16.
Background
There are no effective medications for the treatment of social cognition/function deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and adult intervention literature in this area is sparse. Emerging data from animal models and genetic association studies as well as early, single-dose intervention studies suggest that the oxytocin system may be a potential therapeutic target for social cognition/function deficits in ASD. The primary aim of this study was to examine the safety/therapeutic effects of intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in adults with ASD, with respect to the two core symptom domains of social cognition/functioning and repetitive behaviors.
Methods
This was a pilot, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel design trial of intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in 19 adults with ASD (16 males; 33.20 ± 13.29 years). Subjects were randomized to 24 IU intranasal oxytocin or placebo in the morning and afternoon for 6 weeks. Measures of social function/cognition (the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy) and repetitive behaviors (Repetitive Behavior Scale Revised) were administered. Secondary measures included the Social Responsiveness Scale, Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes Test and the Yale Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale – compulsion subscale and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire – emotional/social subscales). Full-information maximum-likelihood parameter estimates were obtained and tested using mixed-effects regression analyses.
Results
Although no significant changes were detected in the primary outcome measures after correcting for baseline differences, results suggested improvements after 6 weeks in measures of social cognition (Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes Test, p = 0.002, d = 1.2), and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire – emotion, p = 0.031, d = 0.84), both secondary measures. Oxytocin was well tolerated and no serious adverse effects were reported.
Conclusions
This pilot study suggests that there is therapeutic potential to daily administration of intranasal oxytocin in adults with ASD and that larger and longer studies are warranted.
Trial registration
NCT00490802
doi:10.1186/2040-2392-3-16
PMCID: PMC3539865  PMID: 23216716
Autism; Adults; Oxytocin; Clinical trial; Social cognition
4.  Functional deficits of the attentional networks in autism 
Brain and Behavior  2012;2(5):647-660.
Attentional dysfunction is among the most consistent observations of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the neural nature of this deficit in ASD is still unclear. In this study, we aimed to identify the neurobehavioral correlates of attentional dysfunction in ASD. We used the Attention Network Test-Revised and functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine alerting, orienting, and executive control functions, as well as the neural substrates underlying these attentional functions in unmedicated, high-functioning adults with ASD (n = 12) and matched healthy controls (HC, n = 12). Compared with HC, individuals with ASD showed increased error rates in alerting and executive control, accompanied by lower activity in the mid-frontal gyrus and the caudate nucleus for alerting, and by the absence of significant functional activation in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) for executive control. In addition, greater behavioral deficiency in executive control in ASD was correlated with less functional activation of the ACC. These findings of behavioral and neural abnormalities in alerting and executive control of attention in ASD may suggest core attentional deficits, which require further investigation.
doi:10.1002/brb3.90
PMCID: PMC3489817  PMID: 23139910
Alerting; anterior cingulate cortex; attentional networks; autism; executive control
5.  In vivo 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy study of the attentional networks in autism 
Brain research  2010;1380:198-205.
Attentional dysfunction is one of the most consistent findings in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the significance of such findings for the pathophysiology of autism is unclear. In this study, we investigated cellular neurochemistry with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy imaging (1H-MRS) in brain regions associated with networks subserving alerting, orienting, and executive control of attention in patients with ASD. Concentrations of cerebral N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), creatinine + phosphocreatinine, choline-containing compounds, myo-inositol (Ins) and glutamate + glutamine (Glx) were determined by 3 T 1H-MRS examinations in 14 high-functioning medication-free adults with a diagnosis of ASD and 14 age- and IQ-matched healthy controls (HC) in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), thalamus, temporoparietal junction (TPJ), and areas near or along the intraparietal sulcus (IPS). Compared to HC group, the ASD group showed significantly lower Glx concentrations in right ACC and reduced Ins in left TPJ. This study provides evidence of abnormalities in neurotransmission related to networks subserving executive control and alerting of attention, functions which have been previously implicated in ASD pathogenesis.
doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2010.12.057
PMCID: PMC3073642  PMID: 21185269
autism; spectroscopy; glutamate; anterior cingulate cortex; intraparietal sulcus; myo-inositol
6.  Impaired Structural Connectivity of Socio-Emotional Circuits in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Diffusion Tensor Imaging Study 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e28044.
Background
Abnormal white matter development may disrupt integration within neural circuits, causing particular impairments in higher-order behaviours. In autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), white matter alterations may contribute to characteristic deficits in complex socio-emotional and communication domains. Here, we used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and tract based spatial statistics (TBSS) to evaluate white matter microstructure in ASD.
Methods/Principal Findings
DTI scans were acquired for 19 children and adolescents with ASD (∼8–18 years; mean 12.4±3.1) and 16 age and IQ matched controls (∼8–18 years; mean 12.3±3.6) on a 3T MRI system. DTI values for fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, radial diffusivity and axial diffusivity, were measured. Age by group interactions for global and voxel-wise white matter indices were examined. Voxel-wise analyses comparing ASD with controls in: (i) the full cohort (ii), children only (≤12 yrs.), and (iii) adolescents only (>12 yrs.) were performed, followed by tract-specific comparisons. Significant age-by-group interactions on global DTI indices were found for all three diffusivity measures, but not for fractional anisotropy. Voxel-wise analyses revealed prominent diffusion measure differences in ASD children but not adolescents, when compared to healthy controls. Widespread increases in mean and radial diffusivity in ASD children were prominent in frontal white matter voxels. Follow-up tract-specific analyses highlighted disruption to pathways integrating frontal, temporal, and occipital structures involved in socio-emotional processing.
Conclusions/Significance
Our findings highlight disruption of neural circuitry in ASD, particularly in those white matter tracts that integrate the complex socio-emotional processing that is impaired in this disorder.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028044
PMCID: PMC3223195  PMID: 22132206
7.  Divalproex Sodium vs Placebo for the Treatment of Irritability in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2009;35(4):990-998.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by social and language deficits and by repetitive behaviors and interests. Irritability/aggression is a significant comorbid symptom in this population, which greatly impacts burden of care. This study examined the effect of divalproex sodium for irritability/aggression in children and adolescents with ASD. This was a 12-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. All efficacy measures were obtained by an independent evaluator blinded to randomization condition and side effects. A total of 55 subjects gavetheir consent and 27 were randomized in a 1 : 1 manner (mean age 9.46±2.46, mean nonverbal IQ 63.3±23.9). Two subjects from the active group and one subject from the placebo group discontinued the study because of either a lack of efficacy or side effects (increased irritability). Primary outcome measures were Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Irritability subscale and Clinical Global Impression-Improvement, which focused on irritability. Overall, 62.5% of divalproex subjects vs 9% of placebo subjects were responders (CGI-irritability OR: 16.7, Fisher's exact p=0.008). A statistically significant improvement was also noted on the ABC-Irritability subscale (p=0.048). There was a trend for responders to have higher valproate blood levels compared with nonresponders. This study suggests the efficacy of divalproex for the treatment of irritability in children and adolescents with ASD. Larger sample follow-up studies are warranted.
doi:10.1038/npp.2009.202
PMCID: PMC2846602  PMID: 20010551
ASD; irritability; divalproex; children; adolescents; Development/Developmental Disorders; Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Psychopharmacology; Clinical Pharmacology/Trials; autism; adolescents; children; EEG; divalproex
8.  DIVALPROEX SODIUM VS. PLACEBO FOR THE TREATMENT OF IRRITABILITY IN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS 
Objective
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by social and language deficits and repetitive behaviors and interests. Irritability/aggression is a significant co-morbid symptom in this population, which greatly impacts burden of care. This study examined the effect of divalproex sodium for irritability / aggression in children and adolescents with ASD.
Methods
This was a 12 week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. All efficacy measures were obtained by an independent evaluator blinded to randomization condition and side effects. Fifty five subjects signed consent and 27 were randomized in a 1:1 fashion (mean age 9.46±2.46, mean non verbal IQ 63.3±23.9). Two subjects from the active group and one subject from the placebo group discontinued the study due to either lack of efficacy or side effects (increased irritability).
Results
The primary outcome measures were Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Irritability subscale and Clinical Global Impression-Improvement, focused on irritability. 62.5% of divalproex subjects vs. 9% of placebo subjects were responders (CGI-irritability OR:16.7, Fisher’s exact p=0.008). A statistically significant improvement was also noted on the ABC-Irritability subscale (p=0.048). There was a trend for the responders to have higher valproate blood levels than the non-responders.
Conclusions
This study suggests efficacy of divalproex for the treatment of irritability in children and adolescents with ASD. Larger sample follow-up studies are warranted.
doi:10.1038/npp.2009.202
PMCID: PMC2846602  PMID: 20010551
ASD; irritability; divalproex; children; adolescents
9.  Multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification for genetic screening in autism spectrum disorders: Efficient identification of known microduplications and identification of a novel microduplication in ASMT 
BMC Medical Genomics  2008;1:50.
Background
It has previously been shown that specific microdeletions and microduplications, many of which also associated with cognitive impairment (CI), can present with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA) represents an efficient method to screen for such recurrent microdeletions and microduplications.
Methods
In the current study, a total of 279 unrelated subjects ascertained for ASDs were screened for genomic disorders associated with CI using MLPA. Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), quantitative polymerase chain reaction (Q-PCR) and/or direct DNA sequencing were used to validate potential microdeletions and microduplications. Methylation-sensitive MLPA was used to characterize individuals with duplications in the Prader-Willi/Angelman (PWA) region.
Results
MLPA showed two subjects with typical ASD-associated interstitial duplications of the 15q11-q13 PWA region of maternal origin. Two additional subjects showed smaller, de novo duplications of the PWA region that had not been previously characterized. Genes in these two novel duplications include GABRB3 and ATP10A in one case, and MKRN3, MAGEL2 and NDN in the other. In addition, two subjects showed duplications of the 22q11/DiGeorge syndrome region. One individual was found to carry a 12 kb deletion in one copy of the ASPA gene on 17p13, which when mutated in both alleles leads to Canavan disease. Two subjects showed partial duplication of the TM4SF2 gene on Xp11.4, previously implicated in X-linked non-specific mental retardation, but in our subsequent analyses such variants were also found in controls. A partial duplication in the ASMT gene, located in the pseudoautosomal region 1 (PAR1) of the sex chromosomes and previously suggested to be involved in ASD susceptibility, was observed in 6–7% of the cases but in only 2% of controls (P = 0.003).
Conclusion
MLPA proves to be an efficient method to screen for chromosomal abnormalities. We identified duplications in 15q11-q13 and in 22q11, including new de novo small duplications, as likely contributing to ASD in the current sample by increasing liability and/or exacerbating symptoms. Our data indicate that duplications in TM4SF2 are not associated with the phenotype given their presence in controls. The results in PAR1/PAR2 are the first large-scale studies of gene dosage in these regions, and the findings at the ASMT locus indicate that further studies of the duplication of the ASMT gene are needed in order to gain insight into its potential involvement in ASD. Our studies also identify some limitations of MLPA, where single base changes in probe binding sequences alter results. In summary, our studies indicate that MLPA, with a focus on accepted medical genetic conditions, may be an inexpensive method for detection of microdeletions and microduplications in ASD patients for purposes of genetic counselling if MLPA-identified deletions are validated by additional methods.
doi:10.1186/1755-8794-1-50
PMCID: PMC2588447  PMID: 18925931

Results 1-9 (9)