Connectome-based cortical hierarchy characterization in ASD

Hong SJ, Vos de Wael R, Bethlehem R, Lariviere R, Paquola C, Valk SL, Di Martino A, Milham MP, Smallwood J, Margulies D, Bernhardt BC. “Atypical functional connectome hierarchy in autism”, Nature Communications. 2019, 10 (1):1022

ABSTRACT. One paradox of autism is the co-occurrence of deficits in sensory and higher-order socio-cognitive processing. Here, we examined whether these phenotypical patterns may relate to an overarching system-level imbalance—specifically a disruption in macroscale hierarchy affecting integration and segregation of unimodal and transmodal networks. Combining connectome gradient and stepwise connectivity analysis based on task-free functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we demonstrated atypical connectivity transitions between sensory and higher-order default mode regions in a large cohort of individuals with autism relative to typically-developing controls. Further analyses indicated that reduced differentiation related to perturbed stepwise connectivity from sensory towards transmodal areas, as well as atypical long-range rich-club connectivity. Supervised pattern learning revealed that hierarchical features predicted deficits in social cognition and low-level behavioral symptoms, but not communication-related symptoms. Our findings provide new evidence for imbalances in network hierarchy in autism, which offers a parsimonious reference frame to consolidate its diverse features.

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