Nav: Home

Paths to Autism: One or Many?

July 19, 2016

Philadelphia, PA, July 19, 2016 - A new report in Biological Psychiatry reports that brain alterations in infants at risk for autism may be widespread and affect multiple systems, in contrast to the widely held assumption of impairment specifically in social brain networks.

Autism is diagnosed based on impairments in social and communication behaviors. These symptoms tend to emerge in the second year of life, but identifying abnormalities in early infancy could help researchers understand how autism develops and potentially allow clinicians to predict the disorder before it emerges.

Attempts to identify precursors have primarily focused on social behaviors, based on the assumption that abnormalities in social brain networks arise early in life and compound throughout development. But Dr. Mayada Elsabbagh from McGill University in Canada, and Dr. Mark Johnson, from Birkbeck, University of London, suggest that recent studies do not support the idea of a singular pathway in the development of autism.

In their synthesis of studies examining infants at risk for autism, Elsabbagh and Johnson highlight behavioral research providing evidence for general abnormalities during the first year of life. These include delayed motor maturation, higher level of perceptual sensitivity, and poor attention flexibility. The authors also highlight brain imaging studies that provide evidence for widespread alterations throughout brain networks, rather than focal deficits in social networks.

The behavioral and imaging studies challenge the assumption of early social network abnormalities that persist throughout development and lead to emergence of the disorder.

"Our review reveals little support for localized deficits in social brain network systems within the first year of life," said Elsabbagh. "It instead favors the view that atypical development involving perceptual, attentional, motor, and social systems precede emerging autism and lead to overt behavioral symptoms by the second year."

The review suggests that focusing on a single deficit may not be sufficient to identify early warning signs and will likely adjust how researchers conceptualize the disorder.

"There has been a concerted effort to identify the final common neural pathways underlying symptoms and deficits for psychiatric disorders," said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "Yet the perspective shared by Elsabbagh and Johnson suggests that there are widespread disturbances in brain development in autism spectrum disorder and that the prominent social deficits either reflect the fact that circuits underlying social behaviors are among the many circuits affected or that some functional deficits are emergent properties of multiple affected circuits."
-end-
Notes for editors

The article is "Autism and the Social Brain: The First-Year Puzzle," by Mayada Elsabbagh and Mark H. Johnson (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.02.019). It appears in Biological Psychiatry, volume 80, issue 2 (2016), published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Rhiannon Bugno at 1-214-648-0880 or biol.psych@utsouthwestern.edu. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Mayada Elsabbagh at mayada.elsabbagh@mcgill.ca.

The authors' affiliations, and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, M.D., is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry

Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 5th out of 140 Psychiatry titles and 11th out of 256 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2015 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 11.212.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions -- among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey -- and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 35,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries. http://www.elsevier.com

Media contact

Rhiannon Bugno
Editorial Office, Biological Psychiatry
1-214-648-0880
biol.psych@utsouthwestern.edu

Elsevier

Related Autism Articles:

Brain protein mutation from child with autism causes autism-like behavioral change in mice
A de novo gene mutation that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of mice.
Autism and theory of mind
Theory of mind, or the ability to represent other people's minds as distinct from one's own, can be difficult for people with autism.
Potential biomarker for autism
A study of young children with autism spectrum disorder published in JNeurosci reveals altered brain waves compared to typically developing children during a motor control task.
Autism and the smell of fear
Autism typically involves the inability to read social cues. We most often associate this with visual difficulty in interpreting facial expression, but new research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that the sense of smell may also play a central role in autism.
Autism often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.
State laws requiring autism coverage by private insurers led to increases in autism care
A new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that the enactment of state laws mandating coverage of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was followed by sizable increases in insurer-covered ASD care and associated spending.
Autism's gender patterns
Having one child with autism is a well-known risk factor for having another one with the same disorder, but whether and how a sibling's gender influences this risk has remained largely unknown.
Pinpointing the origins of autism
The origins of autism remain mysterious. What areas of the brain are involved, and when do the first signs appear?
Genes, ozone, and autism
Exposure to ozone in the environment puts individuals with high levels of genetic variation at an even higher risk for developing autism than would be expected just by adding the two risk factors together, a new analysis shows.
New form of autism found
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect around one percent of the world's population and are characterized by a range of difficulties in social interaction and communication.
More Autism News and Autism Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.