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MRI Scans May Help Evaluate Asperger’s Syndrome

Researchers Use Advanced MRI Scans to Analyze Brain Activity of People With Asperger’s

Tracking Brain Activity in Asperger’s Patients

Results of the functional and diffusion MRI scans showed that compared with people with no cognitive problems, people with Asperger's syndrome:

  • Have increased activation in the brain network that governs attention. "This might explain hyper-arousal and [obsessing] that are typical in Asperger’s syndrome," Muller says.
  • Have detected decreased activity and fewer fibers connecting cells in the brain area that governs the resting state of the brain. This network "is used to explore the intentions of other people, a function that is strongly impaired in autism," she says.
  • Have decreased activity in motor areas of the brain. "This may account for the known clumsiness in Asperger's patients," Muller says.
  • Have decreased activity in the brain network that is active when you’re thinking about yourself, other people and the relation between the two, she says. "This might correlate to the increase in apathy and the decrease in social interaction exhibited by people with Asperger's syndrome," she says.

There was no difference in activity in the visual and auditory brain regions between the two groups. "This suggests that symptoms are not caused by altered perception of visual and auditory stimuli but by aberrant processing of sensory information," Muller says.

Robert Zimmerman, MD, professor of radiology at Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York City, says that while the study is small, "it is starting to give us a better understanding of the brain, how it works differently in Asperger's and in [cognitively] normal people."

The increased activity in the attention network and the decreased activity in some other major brain areas may account for the fact the "people with Asperger's syndrome exhibit hyper-concentration but at the same time are easily distracted and can’t focus," he tells WebMD.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.


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