Alterations in the inferior longitudinal fasciculus in autism and associations with visual processing: A diffusion-weighted MRI study

Bart Boets*, Lien Van Eylen, Kevin Sitek, Pieter Moors, Ilse Noens, Jean Steyaert, Stefan Sunaert, Johan Wagemans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: One of the most reported neural features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the alteration of multiple long-range white matter fiber tracts, as assessed by diffusion-weighted imaging and indexed by reduced fractional anisotropy (FA). Recent methodological advances, however, have shown that this same pattern of reduced FA may be an artifact resulting from excessive head motion and poorer data quality and that aberrant structural connectivity in children with ASD is confined to the right inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF). This study aimed at replicating the observation of reduced FA along the right ILF in ASD, while controlling for group differences in head motion and data quality. In addition, we explored associations between reduced FA in the right ILF and quantitative ASD characteristics, and the involvement of the right ILF in visual processing, which is known to be altered in ASD. Method: Global probabilistic tractography was performed on diffusion-weighted imaging data of 17 adolescent boys with ASD and 17 typically developing boys, matched for age, performance IQ, handedness, and data quality. Four tasks were administered to measure various aspects of visual information processing, together with questionnaires assessing ASD characteristics. Group differences were examined and the neural data were integrated with previously published findings using Bayesian statistics to quantify evidence for replication and to pool data and thus increase statistical power. (Partial) correlations were calculated to investigate associations between measures. Results: The ASD group showed consistently reduced FA only in the right ILF and slower performance on the visual search task. Bayesian statistics pooling data across studies confirmed that group differences in FA were confined to the right ILF only, with the evidence for altered FA in the left ILF being indecisive. Lower FA in the right ILF tended to covary with slower visual search and a more fragmented part-oriented processing style. Individual differences in FA of the right ILF were not reliably associated with the severity of ASD traits after controlling for clinical status. Conclusion: Our findings support the growing evidence for reduced FA along a specific fiber tract in ASD, the right ILF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10
JournalMolecular Autism
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 8 2018

Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Diffusion-weighted imaging
  • Inferior longitudinal fasciculus
  • Structural connectivity
  • Visual processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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