A convergent structure–function substrate of cognitive imbalances in autism

Seok-Jun Hong, PhD, Laurent Mottron, MD, PhD, Bo-yong Park, PhD, Oualid Benkarim, PhD, Sofie L Valk, PhD, Casey Paquola, PhD, Sara Larivière, MSc, Reinder Vos de Wael, PhD, Janie Degré-Pelletier, MSc, Isabelle Soulieres, PhD, Bruce Ramphal, BSc, Amy Margolis, PhD, Michael Milham, MD, PhD, Adriana Di Martino, MD, Boris C Bernhardt, PhD, A convergent structure–function substrate of cognitive imbalances in autism, Cerebral Cortex, 2022

ABSTRACT. Background Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental diagnosis showing substantial phenotypic heterogeneity. A leading example can be found in verbal and nonverbal cognitive skills, which vary from elevated to impaired compared with neurotypical individuals. Moreover, deficits in verbal profiles often coexist with normal or superior performance in the nonverbal domain.
Methods Tostudy brain substrates underlying cognitive imbalance in ASD,we capitalized categorical and dimensional IQ profiling as well as multimodal neuroimaging.
Results IQ analyses revealed a marked verbal to nonverbal IQ imbalance in ASD across 2 datasets (Dataset-1: 155 ASD, 151 controls; Dataset-2: 270 ASD, 490 controls). Neuroimaging analysis in Dataset-1 revealed a structure–function substrate of cognitive imbalance, characterized by atypical cortical thickening and altered functional integration of language networks alongside sensory and higher cognitive areas.
Conclusion Although verbal and nonverbal intelligence have been considered as specifiers unrelated to autism diagnosis,our results indicate that intelligence disparities are accentuated in ASD and reflected by a consistent structure–function substrate affecting multiple brain networks. Our findings motivate the incorporation of cognitive imbalances in future autism research,which may help to parse the phenotypic heterogeneity and inform intervention-oriented subtyping in ASD.

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