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Risk and Protective Environmental Factors Associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evidence-Based Principles and Recommendations
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J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8(4), 487; https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8040487

Brain Network Organization Correlates with Autistic Features in Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders and in Their Fathers: Preliminary Data from a DWI Analysis

1
Institute of Clinical Physiology, National Research Council of Italy, 56124, Pisa, Italy
2
IRCCS Stella Maris Foundation, 56128, Pisa, Italy
3
Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Pisa, 56126, Pisa, Italy
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 5 February 2019 / Revised: 2 April 2019 / Accepted: 6 April 2019 / Published: 10 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Autism Spectrum Disorders)
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Abstract

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that is characterized by an altered brain connectivity organization. Autistic traits below the clinical threshold (i.e., the broad autism phenotype; BAP) are frequent among first-degree relatives of subjects with ASD; however, little is known regarding whether subthreshold behavioral manifestations of ASD mirror also at the neuroanatomical level in parents of ASD probands. To this aim, we applied advanced diffusion network analysis to MRI of 16 dyads consisting of a child with ASD and his father in order to investigate: (i) the correlation between structural network organization and autistic features in preschoolers with ASD (all males; age range 1.5–5.2 years); (ii) the correlation between structural network organization and BAP features in the fathers of individuals with ASD (fath-ASD). Local network measures significantly correlated with autism severity in ASD children and with BAP traits in fath-ASD, while no significant association emerged when considering the global measures of brain connectivity. Notably, an overlap of some brain regions that are crucial for social functioning (cingulum, superior temporal gyrus, inferior temporal gyrus, middle frontal gyrus, frontal pole, and amygdala) in patients with ASD and fath-ASD was detected, suggesting an intergenerational transmission of these neural substrates. Overall, the results of this study may help in elucidating the neurostructural endophenotype of ASD, paving the way for bridging connections between underlying genetic and ASD symptomatology.
Keywords: autism spectrum disorders; preschoolers; diffusion tensor imaging; brain connectivity; connectome; fathers; broader autism phenotype autism spectrum disorders; preschoolers; diffusion tensor imaging; brain connectivity; connectome; fathers; broader autism phenotype
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Billeci, L.; Calderoni, S.; Conti, E.; Lagomarsini, A.; Narzisi, A.; Gesi, C.; Carmassi, C.; Dell’Osso, L.; Cioni, G.; Muratori, F.; Guzzetta, A. Brain Network Organization Correlates with Autistic Features in Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders and in Their Fathers: Preliminary Data from a DWI Analysis. J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8, 487.

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