(Baltimore, MD) In the first neuroimaging study to examine motor execution in children with autism, researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute have uncovered important new insight into the neurological basis of autism. The study, published online in the journal Brain's April 23 Brain Advanced Access, compared the brain activity of children with high functioning autism and their typically developing peers while performing a simple motor tasktapping their fingers in sequence. The researchers found that children with autism relied more heavily on a region of the brain responsible for conscious, effortful movement, while their typically developing peers utilized a region of the brain important for automating motor tasks. Children with autism also showed less connectivity between different regions of the brain involved in coordinating and executing movement, supporting the theory that a decreased ability of distant regions of the brain to communicate with each other forms the neurological basis of autism.
Researchers used fMRI scans to examine the brain activity of 13 children with high functioning autism and 13 typically developing children while performing sequential finger tapping. The typically developing children had increased activity in the cerebellum, a region of the brain important for automating motor tasks, while children with autism had increased activity in the supplementary motor area (SMA), a region of the brain important for conscious movement. This suggests children with autism have to recruit and rely on more conscious, effortful motor planning because they are not able to rely on the cerebellum to automate tasks.
Researchers also examined the functional connectivity of the brain regions involved in motor planning and execution in order to compare the activity between different brain regions involved in the same task. The children with autism showed substantially decreased connectivity between the different brain region
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Kennedy Krieger Institute