Summary: A study by King’s College researchers has identified a link between autism traits and isolated fetal ventriculomegaly – a common antenatal brain abnormality. Using MRI brain scans, the study supports the need for early identification and intervention for families and may improve long-term support for those affected.
Source: King’s College London
Researchers used MRI brain scans of children with isolated fetal ventriculomegaly to measure neurodevelopment and investigate the presence of autism traits at school age.
In a paper published in Communication in NatureKing researchers from the Center for the Developing Brain found evidence supporting a link between isolated ventriculomegaly and features of autism.
The study followed two groups of children, one with a normal fetal brain MR assessment and those with an antenatal diagnosis of isolated ventriculomegaly, with follow-up developmental tests at 2 years old and elementary school age.
Participating children were first scanned as fetuses then tested with a range of developmental measures including IQ, autism traits, sustained attention, neurological function, behavior, executive function , sensory processing, coordination and adaptive behavior.
Fetal ventriculomegaly is the most common antenatally-diagnosed brain abnormality and is diagnosed when the lateral ventricles measure larger than normal on antenatal ultrasound or MR imaging.
This study shows an association between the most common developmental fetal brain anomaly and autism traits. The results may improve counseling for families and aid in early identification, support and intervention, with further research needed to confirm the initial findings within a larger population.
“Although this method offers only a partial indicator of future outcomes, better prediction may have important implications for the long-term support of families. For example, early identification means that parents can be advised of potential future outcomes and increased awareness of the onset of autistic traits in their child will allow earlier and faster access. in supporting programs,” said Dr. Vanessa Kyriakopoulou, senior research associate in Neuroscience & Neuroimaging.
“There is a clear need for more long-term data combining high-quality brain imaging with long-term developmental follow up in children with antenatally-diagnosed isolated ventriculomegaly or indeed with other common brain anomalies of the fetus to improve our understanding of the susceptibility of having autism,” said Professor Mary Rutherford, Perinatal Imaging & Health.
About this autism research news
Original Research: Open access.
“Identification of ASD characteristics in a cohort of children with isolated fetal ventriculomegaly” by Vanessa Kyriakopoulou et al. Communication in Nature
Identification of ASD characteristics in a cohort of children with isolated fetal ventriculomegaly
Fetal ventriculomegaly is the most common brain abnormality diagnosed antenatally. Imaging studies of antenatal isolated ventriculomegaly show enlarged ventricles and cortical overgrowth that are also present in children with autism-spectrum disorder/condition (ASD).
We investigated the presence of ASD characteristics in a group of children (n= 24 [20 males/4 females]) with isolated fetal ventriculomegaly, compared with 10 controls (n= 10 [6 males/4 females]).
School-age neurodevelopmental outcomes include IQ, ASD traits (ADOS-2), sustained attention, neurological functioning, behavior, executive function, sensory processing, co-ordination, and adaptive behavior.
Pre-school language development is assessed at 2 years. 37.5% of children, all boys, in the ventriculomegaly cohort scored above the threshold for autism/ASD classification.
Pre-school language delay predicted ADOS-2 autism/ASD classification with 73.3% specificity/66.7% sensitivity. Greater pre-school language delay was associated with more ASD symptoms.
In this study, the neurodevelopment of children with isolated fetal ventriculomegaly, associated with altered cortical development, includes features of ASD, difficulties in sustained attention, working memory and behaviors sensation seeking.