Improving Language Skills in Autism Spectrum Disorder by Modulating Prefrontal Activity Noninvasively
This project focused on improving language abilities of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). rTMS is a non-invasive way to induce a controlled amount of current in the living human brain and use it to explore the way in which brain regions interact to generate behavior. The investigators believe that language abilities of individuals with ASD are abnormal because connections between certain brain regions do not function normally early in life and development results in progressive maladaptive changes that account for symptoms of disease. These abnormal connections may relate to a dysfunction in mirror neurons, which help us understand actions of others and are critical for language acquisition. Research shows that mirror neuron function is abnormal in individuals with ASD. In humans a vast number of mirror neurons are in Broca’s region, a part of the brain that is fundamental for speech and language. The investigators believe that dysfunction of mirror cells in this region leads to a faulty connectivity between Broca’s region and other language areas in both halves of the brain and account for core deficits in individuals with ASD. Studies in patients with abnormal language due to a stroke affecting Broca’s area (aphasia) reveal that modifying activity in the pars triangularis of the frontal operculum with rTMS improves language even after more than 10 years of aphasia. The investigators used rTMS to change the activity in the pars triangularis in individuals with ASD with the hypothesis that it would lead to a language improvement. It was hoped that this study would provide an improved understanding of the cause of language deficits in ASD and would lead to the development of a new treatment strategy that will improve communication skills and social interactions of those with ASD.
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