Abnormal fronto-parietal white matter organisation in the superior longitudinal fasciculus branches in autism spectrum disorders

Fitzgerald, Jacqueline, Leemans, Alexander, Kehoe, Elizabeth, O'Hanlon, Erik, Gallagher, Louise, McGrath, Jane


European Journal of Neuroscience


Core features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be underpinned by disrupted functional and structural neural connectivity. Abnormal fronto-parietal functional connectivity has been widely reported in the literature; this may be underpinned by disrupted microstructural organisation of white matter. The superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) is a major fronto-parietal white matter tract, the structure of which has been little studied in ASD. The fronto-parietal projections of this tract (SLF I, II and III) are thought to play an important role in a number of cognitive functions including attention and visuospatial processing. To date, the isolation of the fronto-parietal branches of the SLF has been hampered by limitations of traditional tractography approaches. Constrained spherical deconvolution (CSD)-based tractography is an advanced approach that allows valid isolation of the fronto-parietal branches of the SLF. Diffusion MRI data were acquired from 45 participants with ASD and 45 age- and IQ-matched controls. The SLF I, II and III branches were isolated using CSD-based tractography in ExploreDTI. Significantly greater fractional anisotropy (FA) was observed in the right SLF II relative to controls. The ASD group also showed greater linear diffusion coefficient in the left SLF I and the right SLF II. In the SLF II, the ASD group had significantly greater right lateralisation of FA in comparison with the control group. The clinical and functional implications of increased FA in white matter are poorly understood; however, it is possible that this increased white matter organisation in the SLF in ASD may contribute to relative processing advantages in the condition.