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The anatomy of extended limbic pathways in Asperger syndrome: a preliminary diffusion tensor imaging tractography study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Luca Pugliese, Marco Catani, Stephanie Ameis, Flavio Dell' Acqua, Michel Thiebaut de Schotten, Clodagh Murphy, Dene Robertson, Quinton Deeley, Eileen M Daly, Declan G Murphy

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427 - 434
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Early online date15 May 2009
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2009

King's Authors


It has been suggested that people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) have altered development (and connectivity) of limbic circuits. However, direct evidence of anatomical differences specific to white matter pathways underlying social behaviour and emotions in ASD is lacking. We used Diffusion Tensor Imaging Tractography to compare, in vivo, the microstructural integrity and age-related differences in the extended limbic pathways between subjects with Asperger syndrome and healthy controls. Twenty-four males with Asperger syndrome (mean age 23+/-12 years, age range: 9-54 years) and 42 age-matched male controls (mean age 25+/-10 years, age range: 9-54 years) were studied. We quantified tract-specific diffusivity measurements as indirect indexes of microstructural integrity (e.g. fractional anisotropy, FA; mean diffusivity, MD) and tract volume (e.g. number of streamlines) of the main limbic tracts. The dissected limbic pathways included the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, inferior frontal occipital fasciculus, uncinate, cingulum and fornix. There were no significant between-group differences in FA and MD. However, compared to healthy controls, individuals with Asperger syndrome had a significantly higher number of streamlines in the right (p=.003) and left (p=.03) cingulum, and in the right (p=.03) and left (p=.04) inferior longitudinal fasciculus. In contrast, people with Asperger syndrome had a significantly lower number of streamlines in the right uncinate (p=.02). Within each group there were significant age-related differences in MD and number of streamlines, but not FA. However, the only significant age-related between-group difference was in mean diffusivity of the left uncinate fasciculus (Z(obs)=2.05) (p=.02). Our preliminary findings suggest that people with Asperger syndrome have significant differences in the anatomy, and maturation, of some (but not all) limbic tracts.

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