A new method using neuroimaging to track brain function in boys affected by autism could provide doctors with a biomarker for how patients are responding to behavioral or drug treatments, according to results of a study published online in JAMA Psychiatry.
Such a tool has eluded autism researchers until now, said study co-author and professor Kevin Pelphrey, PhD, of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“This is significant because biomarkers give us a ‘why’ for understanding autism in boys that we haven’t had before,” he said in a press release. “We can now use functional biomarkers to identify what treatments will be effective for individual cases and measure progress.”
The researchers, led by Malin Björnsdotter, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, analyzed fMRI brain scans from 114 patients and discovered that social perception circuits inside the brain only indicated autism in boys.
"The behavioral symptoms of ASD are so complex and varied it is difficult to determine whether a new treatment is effective, especially within a realistic time frame," Björnsdotter said. "Brain function markers may provide the specific and objective measures required to bridge this gap."
The researchers will now investigate a larger sample size of children with autism and other neurological disorders in collaboration with Children’s National Medical Center to see if the scan is capable of distinguishing autism from other disorders and tracking patient response to treatment.