Disconnected brains: what is the role of fMRI in connectivity research?

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Abstract

In this paper we consider how functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) has been used to study cortical connectivity in autism and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). We discuss those studies that have contributed to the evidence supporting a model of disordered cortical connectivity in autism and (ASD), with a focusing emphasis on the application to research into the underconnectivity model. We note that the analytical techniques employed are limited and do not allow interpretation in terms of effective, or directional connectivity, nor do they provide information about the temporal or spectral characteristics of the functional networks being studied. We highlight how currently the features of neural generators that are being assessed by functional connectivity in fMRI are unclear. In addition, we note the importance in clinical studies of considering the consequences of task choice for the nature of the imaging data that can be collected and also of individual differences in participant state and trait characteristics for the accurate interpretation of imaging data. We discuss how alternative techniques such as EEG/MEG may address the limitations of fMRI in assessing brain connectivity, and additionally consider the potential of multimodal approaches. We conclude that fMRI has made significant contributions towards our understanding of the brain in terms of neural systems but that the conclusions drawn from its application in the sphere of autism research need to be approached with caution. It is important in research of this kind that we are aware of the need to examine the methodological and analytical techniques closely when applying findings in clinical populations, not only when they are used to support the development of theoretical models but also to inform diagnostic or treatment decisions.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-32
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Volume73
Issue1
Early online date10 Feb 2009
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2009

    Keywords

  • autistic disorder, brain, brain mapping, humans, computer-assisted image processing, magnetic resonance imaging, neurological models, neural pathways, neuropsychological tests, oxygen

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