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Familial risk of autism alters subcortical and cerebellar brain anatomy in infants and predicts the emergence of repetitive behaviors in early childhood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

BASIS Team, Inês Pote, Siying Wang, Vaheshta Sethna, Anna Blasi, Eileen Daly, Maria Kuklisova-Murgasova, Sarah Lloyd-Fox, Evelyne Mercure, Paula Busuulwa, Vladimira Stoencheva, Tony Charman, Steven C R Williams, Mark H Johnson, Declan G M Murphy, Grainne M McAlonan

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)614-627
Number of pages14
JournalAutism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research
Issue number4
Early online date22 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


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King's Authors


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental condition, and infant siblings of children with ASD are at a higher risk of developing autistic traits or an ASD diagnosis, when compared to those with typically developing siblings. Reports of differences in brain anatomy and function in high-risk infants which predict later autistic behaviors are emerging, but although cerebellar and subcortical brain regions have been frequently implicated in ASD, no high-risk study has examined these regions. Therefore, in this study, we compared regional MRI volumes across the whole brain in 4-6-month-old infants with (high-risk, n = 24) and without (low-risk, n = 26) a sibling with ASD. Within the high-risk group, we also examined whether any regional differences observed were associated with autistic behaviors at 36 months. We found that high-risk infants had significantly larger cerebellar and subcortical volumes at 4-6-months of age, relative to low-risk infants; and that larger volumes in high-risk infants were linked to more repetitive behaviors at 36 months. Our preliminary observations require replication in longitudinal studies of larger samples. If correct, they suggest that the early subcortex and cerebellum volumes may be predictive biomarkers for childhood repetitive behaviors. Autism Res 2019. © 2019 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research published byWiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: Individuals with a family history of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at risk of ASD and related developmental difficulties. This study revealed that 4-6-month-old infants at high-risk of ASD have larger cerebellum and subcortical volumes than low-risk infants, and that larger volumes in high-risk infants are associated with more repetitive behaviors in childhood.

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