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Shared and distinct patterns of atypical cortical morphometry in children with autism and anxiety

By Shelly Yin, Seok-Jun Hong, Adriana Di Martino, Michael P. Milham, Bo-Yong Park, Oualid Benkarim, Richard A.I. Bethlehem, Boris C. Bernhardt, Casey Paquola

Posted 29 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.26.010272

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and anxiety disorders (ANX) are common neurodevelopmental conditions with several overlapping symptoms. Notably, many children and adolescents with ASD also have an ANX diagnosis, suggesting shared pathological mechanisms. Here, we leveraged structural imaging and phenotypic data from 82 closely matched children (28 ASD, 28 ANX, 26 typically developing controls). Our neuroimaging paradigm assessed cortical thickness and studied inter-regional structural covariance networks. Both ASD and ANX presented with atypical structural network organization relative to controls. Specifically, ASD presented with increased thickness in temporal and parietal midline cortices, while ANX was associated with increased cortical thickness in the left inferior frontal and precentral gyri. Despite the overall difference in the spatial distributions of these clusters, unconstrained spin permutation testing showed that statistical maps from the ANX-vs-controls and ASD-vs-controls analyses were significantly correlated. The two diagnostic groups also presented with common decreases in structural covariance patterns, collectively pointing to decreased structural coupling between lateral frontal, lateral temporal, and temporo-parietal regions. Dimensional analysis of trait anxiety and social responsiveness partially recapitulated diagnosis-based findings. Collectively, our findings provide evidence for both shared as well as distinct effects of ASD and ANX on regional and inter-regional structural network organization.

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