Pace Of Information Processing Differs In Autistic Brains

Autism is linked to random activity in the sensory cortices and slower processing in the right caudate of the brain, researchers say.

AsianScientist (Feb. 25, 2019) – Scientists in Japan and the UK highlight how the timescale of neural processing differs between normal people and individuals diagnosed with autism. They published their findings in the journal eLife.

Sensory areas of the brain that receive input from the eyes, skin and muscles usually have shorter processing periods compared with higher-order areas that integrate information and control memory and decision-making. Atypical information processing in the brain is thought to underlie the repetitive behaviors and socio-communicational difficulties seen across the spectrum of autistic neurodevelopmental disorders, but to date, few systematic studies go into the details of which brain regions are specifically involved.

In the present study, scientists led by Dr. Takamitsu Watanabe of RIKEN, Japan, carried out magnetic resonance imaging of the brains of high-functioning male adults with autism and compared the results with those of people without autism. In the resting state, both groups showed the expected pattern of longer timescales in frontal brain areas linked to executive control, and shorter timescales in sensory and motor areas. However, the sensory regions in the brains of autistic individuals showed more random activity than those of normal individuals.

The researchers further observed that one brain area—the right caudate—displayed longer-than-normal neural timescales, or slower processing, particularly in individuals with more severe repetitive, restricted behaviors. These differences in brain activity were also found in separate scans of autistic children and were associated with a greater density of neurons in affected brain regions, which in turn can contribute to recurrent, repetitive neural activity patterns.

“The neural timescale is a measure of how predictable the activity is in a given brain region. The shorter timescales we observed in the autistic individuals suggest their brains have trouble holding onto and processing sensory input for as long as neurotypical people,” said Watanabe. “This may explain one prominent feature of autism, the great weight given by the brain to local sensory information and the resulting perceptual hypersensitivity.”

The article can be found at: Watanabe et al. (2019) Atypical Intrinsic Neural Timescale in Autism.


Source: RIKEN; Photo: Pexels.
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