1 min readUsing Brain Imaging to Demonstrate Weaker Neural Suppression for those with Autism

Minneapolis, MN — According to the National Autism Association, people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience sensory hypersensitivity. A University of Minnesota Medical School researcher recently published an article in Nature Communications that illustrates why that may be true by showing the differences in visual motion perception in ASD are accompanied by weaker neural suppression in the visual cortex of the brain. 

While experts in neuroscience and psychiatry recognize that differences in sensory functioning are common among people with ASD, it is not currently understood what is happening differently in the brain on a neural level to cause the variations in sensory perception. 

Using functional MRI and visual tasks, lead author Dr. Michael-Paul Schallmo, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the U of M Medical School, and a team of researchers at the University of Washington found:

“Our work suggests that there may be differences in how people with ASD focus their attention on objects in the visual world that could explain the difference in neural responses we are seeing and may be linked to symptoms like sensory hypersensitivity,” Schallmo said. 

Schallmo is currently working with collaborators at the U of M on a follow-up study of visual and cognitive functioning in youth with ASD, Tourette syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Having a better understanding of how these different disorders affect brain function could lead to new screenings to better identify kids who are at risk for ASD and related conditions. It may also help scientists to find new targets for studies seeking to improve treatments for sensory symptoms in these disorders.

Article adapted from a University of Minnesota Medical School news release.

Publication: Weaker neural suppression in autism. Schallmo, MP et al. Nature Communications (May 29, 2020): Click here to view.

ASD, autism spectrum disorder, Brain, neural suppression, sensory hypersensitivity

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