Identifying interindividual variability of social perception and associated brain anatomical correlations in children with autism spectrum disorder using eye-tracking and DTI-MRI

Alice Vinçon-Leite, Ana Saitovitch, Herve Lemaître, Elza Rechtman, Jennifer Boisgontier, Ludovic Fillon, Anne Philippe, Marlène Rio, Isabelle Desguerre, Aurélie Fabre, Khawla Aljabali, Nathalie Boddaert, Monica Zilbovicius
Cerebral Cortex. 2023-11-30; :
DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhad434

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Even though deficits in social cognition constitute a core characteristic of autism spectrum disorders, a large heterogeneity exists regarding individual social performances and its neural basis remains poorly investigated. Here, we used eye-tracking to objectively measure interindividual variability in social perception and its correlation with white matter microstructure, measured with diffusion tensor imaging MRI, in 25 children with autism spectrum disorder (8.5 ± 3.8 years). Beyond confirming deficits in social perception in participants with autism spectrum disorder compared 24 typically developing controls (10.5 ± 2.9 years), results revealed a large interindividual variability of such behavior among individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Whole-brain analysis showed in both autism spectrum disorder and typically developing groups a positive correlation between number of fixations to the eyes and fractional anisotropy values mainly in right and left superior longitudinal tracts. In children with autism spectrum disorder a correlation was also observed in right and left inferior longitudinal tracts. Importantly, a significant interaction between group and number of fixations to the eyes was observed within the anterior portion of the right inferior longitudinal fasciculus, mainly in the right anterior temporal region. This additional correlation in a supplementary region suggests the existence of a compensatory brain mechanism, which may support enhanced performance in social perception among children with autism spectrum disorder.

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