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Autism Tied to Disrupted Neural Synchronization

Last Updated: June 23, 2011.

Toddlers with autism display disrupted neural synchronization during sleep compared to language-delayed or typically developing children, according to a study published in the June 23 issue of Neuron.

THURSDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- Toddlers with autism display disrupted neural synchronization during sleep compared to language-delayed or typically developing children, according to a study published in the June 23 issue of Neuron.

Ilan Dinstein, Ph.D., from the Autism Center of Excellence in La Jolla, Calif., and colleagues investigated whether disrupted cortical synchronization is evident in naturally sleeping toddlers with autism. Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans were taken of 72 toddlers during natural sleep, without use of sedation, who were aged between 1 and 3.5 years and were typically developing (30), had a language delay (13), or had autism (29).

The investigators found that toddlers with autism showed significantly weaker correlations across the two hemispheres in the inferior frontal gyrus and the superior temporal gyrus compared to the other two groups. Interhemispheric synchronization strength was positively associated with verbal ability and negatively associated with autism severity. The weak interhemispheric correlations could be used to accurately identify the majority of toddlers; with a correlation threshold of 0.38, toddlers with autism were accurately identified with a sensitivity of 72 percent and a specificity of 84 percent.

"These results suggest that poor neural synchronization is a notable neurophysiological characteristic that is evident at the earliest stages of autism development and is related to the severity of behavioral symptoms," the authors write.

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