June 19, 2024

Autism-Associated Brain Differences Can Be Observed in Prenatal MRI Scans in the Womb

ASD, detected in 1 in 68 kids in the U.S., is a complicated neurodevelopmental condition that can trigger obstacles with interaction, cognitive processing, emotional awareness and understanding. The reasons for ASD are unidentified however both environmental and genetic aspects are believed to play a role. While early treatment has been shown to enhance language and cognitive abilities, current diagnostic tools can just recognize the disorder around 18 months of age.
To learn if brain scans taken prenatally might help recognize signs of ASD earlier, the researchers retrospectively evaluated 39 fetal MRI brain scans taken at Boston Childrens Hospital. Nine of the children were later detected with ASD, 20 were neurotypical and 10 did not have ASD but had other health conditions that were also observed in the children with ASD. The brain scans had been taken at about 25 weeks pregnancy, typically.
After preprocessing, the scientists utilized an atlas-based automatic physiological labeling technique to segment the brain scans and then compared the segmented brain regions in between the different groups. The greatest distinctions were discovered in the brains insular lobe, which had a substantially larger volume in the ASD group compared with the other three control groups. The insula is an area deep inside the brain that is believed to have a function in affective awareness, social behavior and decision-making, to name a few functions.
The findings align with other recent research studies that have reported modifications in the insular cortex in adults with autism and recommends these differences may start in the womb. The scientists likewise found that the scans from kids with ASD revealed a significantly larger amygdala and hippocampal commissure compared with kids who had other health conditions however not ASD.
” Given that numerous hereditary and environmental aspects might impact the development of ASD starting in the fetal phases, it is ideal to recognize the earliest signature of brain abnormalities in prospective autism clients,” said Ortug. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first effort to semi-automatically sector the brain areas in the prenatal stage in clients who are identified with autism later on and compare various groups of controls.”
Ortug carried out the research while in a former position as a postdoctoral research fellow at Boston Childrens Hospital. The research study was led by Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor Emi Takahashi, PhD, whose laboratory just recently moved from Boston Childrens Hospital to the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Ortug will present this research from 9:30– 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, April 5, in Room 108A, Pennsylvania Convention Center (abstract). Contact the media team for additional information or to acquire a complimentary press pass to go to the meeting.
Fulfilling: Experimental Biology 2022

Images representative of the process scientists utilized to evaluate prenatal brain scans. (a-b) In-utero MRI images utilized in the research study, (c) an MRI image after processing to mask the brain from the external tissue, (d) automatic division of the brain structures, and (e) analysis of the segmented structures. To find out if brain scans taken prenatally might assist determine signs of ASD earlier, the scientists retrospectively evaluated 39 fetal MRI brain scans taken at Boston Childrens Hospital. After preprocessing, the researchers used an atlas-based automatic anatomical labeling technique to sector the brain scans and then compared the segmented brain regions between the various groups. The most significant differences were found in the brains insular lobe, which had a significantly larger volume in the ASD group compared with the other three control groups.

Images representative of the process scientists used to examine prenatal brain scans. (a-b) In-utero MRI images utilized in the research study, (c) an MRI image after processing to mask the brain from the external tissue, (d) automatic division of the brain structures, and (e) analysis of the segmented structures. The local division procedure was carried out in partnership with Yangming Ou at Boston Childrens Hospital. Credit: Alpen Ortug and Emi Takahashi, Harvard Medical School
Research study is the first to analyze prenatal MRI scans of kids later on detected with autism.
A brand-new study using prenatal brain scans revealed substantial distinctions in brain structures at around 25 weeks pregnancy between kids who were later identified with ASD and those who were not. The research study contributes to mounting evidence that autism begins in early advancement and recommends possible chances to identify the disorder at an earlier age.
” Earlier detection suggests better treatment,” stated Alpen Ortug, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, very first author of the research study. “Our results suggest that an increased volume of the insular lobe may be a strong prenatal MRI biomarker that might forecast the development of ASD later in life.”
Ortug will provide the research study at the American Association for Anatomy annual conference during the Experimental Biology (EB) 2022 conference, kept in Philadelphia on April 2-5, 2022.