Reduced structural complexity of the right cerebellar cortex in male children with autism spectrum disorder

Zhao, Guihu; Walsh, Kirwan; Long, Jun; Gui, Weihua; Denisova, Kristina

The cerebellum contains 80% of all neurons in the human brain and contributes prominently to implicit learning and predictive processing across motor, sensory, and cognitive domains. As morphological features of the cerebellum in atypically developing individuals remain unexplored in-vivo, this is the first study to use high-resolution 3D fractal analysis to estimate fractal dimension (FD), a measure of structural complexity of an object, of the left and right cerebellar cortex (automatically segmented from Magnetic Resonance Images using FreeSurfer), in male children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (N = 20; mean age: 8.8 years old, range: 7.13–10.27) and sex, age, verbal-IQ, and cerebellar volume-matched typically developing (TD) boys (N = 18; mean age: 8.9 years old, range: 6.47–10.52). We focus on an age range within the ‘middle and late childhood’ period of brain development, between 6 and 12 years. A Mann-Whitney U test revealed a significant reduction in the FD of the right cerebellar cortex in ASD relative to TD boys (P = 0.0063, Bonferroni-corrected), indicating flatter and less regular surface protrusions in ASD relative to TD males. Consistent with the prediction that the cerebellum participates in implicit learning, those ASD boys with a higher (vs. lower) PIQ>VIQ difference showed higher, more normative complexity values, closer to TD children, providing new insight on our understanding of the neurological basis of differences in verbal and performance cognitive abilities that often characterize individuals with ASD.


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July 18, 2018