Brain anatomy in MRI scans of people with autism above age six is mostly indistinguishable from that of typically developing individuals and, therefore, of little clinical or scientific value In the largest MRI study to date, researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Carnegie Mellon University have shown that the brain anatomy in MRI scans of people with autism above age six is mostly indistinguishable from that of typically developing individuals and, therefore, of little clinical or scientific value. The researchers used data from the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE), which provides an unprecedented opportunity to conduct large-scale comparisons of anatomical MRI scans across autism and control groups and resolve many outstanding questions. This recently- released database is a worldwide collection of MRI scans from over 1,000 individuals (half with autism and half controls) ages six to 35 years old. "In the study we performed very detailed anatomical examinations of the scans, which included dividing each brain into over 180 regions of interest and assessing multiple anatomical measures such as the volume, surface area and thickness of each region," Dinstein explains. The researchers then examined how the autism and control groups differed with respect to each region and also with respect to groups of regions using more complex analyses. "The most striking finding here was that anatomical differences within both the control group and the autistic group was immense and greatly overshadowed minute differences between the two groups," Dinstein explains. "For example, individuals in the control group differ by 80 to 90 percent in their brain volumes, while differences in brain volume across autism and control groups differed by two to three percent at most. This led us to the conclusion that anatomical measures of brain volume or surface areas do not offer much information regarding the underlying mechanism or pathology of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)," he states. "These sobering results suggest that autism is not a disorder that is associated with specific anatomical pathology and as a result, anatomical measures alone are likely to be of low scientific and clinical significance for identifying children, adolescents and adults with ASD, or for elucidating their neuropathology.
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