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Magnetic Resonance Pilot Study of Brain Tissue Pathophysiology and Perfusion in Autism

This project addressed how we can learn about ways that several different aspects of the brain interact with each other, and how these interactions may be different in people with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs) as compared with people who have had typical development (TDs). Specifically, the brain is both a physical organ with cells, blood flow, fluids and metabolic processes – and also an information-processing system that generates, relays and coordinates signals.

This study was designed to test whether there is a relationship between problems with the physical functions of the brain and problems with the signaling functions of the brain in ASCsThe reason Dr. Herbert’s team thinks that such a relationship exists is that the physical brain is responsible for generating the brain’s electrical signals, and if there are problems with the health of the brain tissue, this is likely to compromise the quality of the signals the brain is able to generate. There are ways of measuring each aspect of brain function in living individuals using non-invasive scanning methods, which do not require any injections and are not known to carry health risks. Dr. Herbert’s group used the magnetic resonance (MR) scanner to measure the density of various chemicals in the brain, the quality and density of the fibers connecting the neurons, and the rate and intensity of blood flow.  They used electroencephalography or magnetoencephalography to measure the intensity and patterns of signals in the brain. They used several MR scanning techniques to measure physical properties of the brain including 31Phosphorus Spectroscopy, Proton (1H) Spectroscopy, Glutathione Spectroscopy, GABA Spectroscopy, and Arterial Spin Labeling.

All of the children in this study were part of a study where their brain signaling was measured by MEG. Therefore Dr. Herbert’s group was able to compare the brain tissue and brain chemistry measures from Magnetic Resonance scanning with the brain signaling measures from MEG. This study was the first time these various measures were combined. The hope was that Dr. Herbert’s group could proceed with using this collection of measures to evaluate the impact upon the brain of treatments, particularly those that target either metabolism or electrical brain signaling.