Background: Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is accompanied by developmental differences in brain anatomy and connectivity. White matter differences in ASC have been widely studied with diffusion imaging but results are heterogeneous and vary across the age range of study participants and varying methodological approaches. To characterize the neurodevelopmental trajectory of white matter maturation, it is necessary to examine a broad age range of individuals on the autism spectrum and typically developing controls, and investigate age × group interactions. Methods: Here, we employed a spatially unbiased tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) approach to examine age-related differences in white matter connectivity in a sample of 41 individuals with ASC, and 41 matched controls between 7-17 years of age. Results: We found significant age-related differences between the ASC and control group in widespread brain regions. This included age-related differences in the uncinate fasciculus, corticospinal tract, inferior longitudinal fasciculus, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, anterior thalamic radiation, superior longitudinal fasciculus and forceps major. Measures of fractional anisotropy (FA) were significantly positively associated with age in both groups. However, this relationship was significantly stronger in the ASC group relative to controls. Measures of radial diffusivity (RD) were significantly negatively associated with age in both groups, but this relationship was significantly stronger in the ASC group relative to controls. Limitations: The generalisability of our findings is limited by the restriction of the sample to right-handed males with an IQ > 70. Furthermore, a longitudinal design would be required to fully investigate maturational processes across this age group. Conclusions: Taken together, our findings suggest that autistic males have an altered trajectory of white matter maturation relative to controls. Future longitudinal analyses are required to further characterize the extent and time course of these differences.
- Diffusion weighted imaging
- Tract-based spatial statistics