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Cross-sectional and longitudinal neuroanatomical profiles of distinct clinical (adaptive) outcomes in autism.

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Pretzsch, Charlotte M  ORCID logo
Floris, Dorothea L 
Gurr, Caroline 


Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (henceforth referred to as autism) display significant variation in clinical outcome. For instance, across age, some individuals' adaptive skills naturally improve or remain stable, while others' decrease. To pave the way for 'precision-medicine' approaches, it is crucial to identify the cross-sectional and, given the developmental nature of autism, longitudinal neurobiological (including neuroanatomical and linked genetic) correlates of this variation. We conducted a longitudinal follow-up study of 333 individuals (161 autistic and 172 neurotypical individuals, aged 6-30 years), with two assessment time points separated by ~12-24 months. We collected behavioural (Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scale-II, VABS-II) and neuroanatomical (structural magnetic resonance imaging) data. Autistic participants were grouped into clinically meaningful "Increasers", "No-changers", and "Decreasers" in adaptive behaviour (based on VABS-II scores). We compared each clinical subgroup's neuroanatomy (surface area and cortical thickness at T1, ∆T (intra-individual change) and T2) to that of the neurotypicals. Next, we explored the neuroanatomical differences' potential genomic associates using the Allen Human Brain Atlas. Clinical subgroups had distinct neuroanatomical profiles in surface area and cortical thickness at baseline, neuroanatomical development, and follow-up. These profiles were enriched for genes previously associated with autism and for genes previously linked to neurobiological pathways implicated in autism (e.g. excitation-inhibition systems). Our findings suggest that distinct clinical outcomes (i.e. intra-individual change in clinical profiles) linked to autism core symptoms are associated with atypical cross-sectional and longitudinal, i.e. developmental, neurobiological profiles. If validated, our findings may advance the development of interventions, e.g. targeting mechanisms linked to relatively poorer outcomes.


Acknowledgements: The results leading to this publication have received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No 777394 for the project AIMS-2-TRIALS. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon-2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA and AUTISM SPEAKS, Autistica, SFARI. (The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.) Any views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the funders (IHI-JU2). This work was further supported by the European Union Horizon-2020 programme CANDY (Grant Agreement No. 847818). CMF acknowledges support from the European Union and the German Research Association (DFG). DGM acknowledges support from the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre. We thank all participants of the LEAP study. Many thanks also to ABI for his support and the best coffee in London.

Funder: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation); doi:

Funder: European Union

Funder: NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre


Humans, Autistic Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Follow-Up Studies, Neuroanatomy, Cross-Sectional Studies

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Mol Psychiatry

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC