Diagnosing Autism Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
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Diagnosing Autism Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

When observing functional magnetic resonance images (MRIs) in people with autism, studies are showing that the right and left sections of the brain do not communicate. According to University of Utah researchers, MRIs may become a valuable tool in detecting and diagnosing autism in children at an early age.

When using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) in people with autism, studies are showing that the right and left sections of the brain do not communicate. According to University of Utah researchers, MRIs may become a valuable tool in detecting and diagnosing autism in children at an early age.

Although there have been other studies which have shown abnormalities, this one is different because it is the first to focus on specific pathways by doing functional magnetic resonance imaging of the entire brain. The part of the brain where communication seems to lapse is associated with motor skills, social functions, facial recognition and attention. Dr. Jeffery S. Anderson, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Utah, discovered through this research that people's brains who do not have autism show no signs of a break down in communication. The structure of the brain is the same in those with autism, with the exception of the brain being slightly larger in children with the disorder. The biggest difference is how the parts of the brain talk to each other. A functional MRI scan takes measurements of oxygenation changes in the blood to look at neurological activity. Researchers took readings of the blood in individuals at rest every two seconds. In those that were autistic, the firing of the neurons did not synchronize like they did in those who did not have the disorder. Research was done to find the most noticeable areas in the brain that appeared to be abnormal. The results show future promise in diagnosing autism.

Dr. Janet Lainhart, University of Utah associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, stated that they still do not know precisely what is going on in the autistic brain, but they know that it is abnormal. Research in the future will compare the brain's anterior and posterior parts to find help in diagnosing autism and in pinpointing subtypes of the disorder. This will aid in developing treatments for people. It will also assist in predicting what clinical course a child is on by looking at things on a biological level.  Through this it can be determined if a patient will get better, stay the same or get worse. Further research may discover causes of autism, how it develops and if it is possible to change it. This study involved the functional resonance imaging of 80 autistic patients ages 10 to 35. The results of the tests will be added to a study that involves 100 patients. This will be an ongoing and long-term project. The research group consists of professionals in the departments of psychiatry, radiology and pediatrics.

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Comments (4)


What a great discovery to be able to investigate autism through MRI.Well detailed info and presented well too.

Thanks for the information on diagnosing autism. I'll have to come back when I get more votes.

Colenab Robison

Interesting paper. It loks like these Univ. of Utah researchers are making headway in understanding the brain in those people with autism. My son is autistic, thus I have a special interest in autism research. Thanks for posting the information.