Functional Connectivity of the Amygdala Is Disrupted in Preschool-Aged Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Mark D. Shen, Deana D. Li, Christopher L. Keown, Aaron Lee, Ryan T. Johnson, Kathleen Angkustsiri, Sally J Rogers, Ralph Axel Müller, David G Amaral, Christine W Nordahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: The objective of this study was to determine whether functional connectivity of the amygdala is altered in preschool-age children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to assess the clinical relevance of observed alterations in amygdala connectivity. Method: A resting-state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging study of the amygdala (and a parallel study of primary visual cortex) was conducted in 72 boys (mean age 3.5 years; n = 43 with ASD; n = 29 age-matched controls). Results: The ASD group showed significantly weaker connectivity between the amygdala and several brain regions involved in social communication and repetitive behaviors, including bilateral medial prefrontal cortex, temporal lobes, and striatum (p < .05, corrected). Weaker connectivity between the amygdala and frontal and temporal lobes was significantly correlated with increased autism severity in the ASD group (p < .05). In a parallel analysis examining the functional connectivity of primary visual cortex, the ASD group showed significantly weaker connectivity between visual cortex and sensorimotor regions (p < .05, corrected). Weaker connectivity between visual cortex and sensorimotor regions was not correlated with core autism symptoms, but instead was correlated with increased sensory hypersensitivity in the visual/auditory domain (p < .05). Conclusion: These findings indicate that preschool-age children with ASD have disrupted functional connectivity between the amygdala and regions of the brain important for social communication and language, which might be clinically relevant because weaker connectivity was associated with increased autism severity. Moreover, although amygdala connectivity was associated with behavioral domains that are diagnostic of ASD, altered connectivity of primary visual cortex was related to sensory hypersensitivity.

Keywords

  • Amygdala
  • Autism
  • Development
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Neuroimaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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