Researchers have identified imaging biomarkers in the infant brain that can predict the risk of developing autism in later childhood.
The ground-breaking prospective neuroimaging study of 106 infants at high familial risk of autism and 42 low-risk infants, showed that hyperexpansion of the cortical surface area between six and 12 months of age preceded brain volume overgrowth at 12-24 months in 15 high-risk infants who were diagnosed with autism at 24 months.
The findings, published in Nature this month, could facilitate pre-symptomatic diagnosis of ASD, allowing earlier intervention.
“By the time ASD is diagnosed at 2 to 4 years, often children have already fallen behind their peers in terms of social skills, communication and language,” said Annette Estes, co-author and director of the University of Washington Autism Center. “Once you’ve missed those developmental milestones, catching up is a struggle for many and nearly impossible for some.”
“The latter part of the first and early second years of life are characterised by greater neural plasticity relative to later ages and is a time when the social deficits associated with autism are not yet well established. Intervention at this age may prove more efficacious than later in development,” the authors advised.