Eva Loth becomes professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at King's Colleage London. On 16th June 2023, Eva Loth, gave her inaugural lecture as professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's Colleage London...
How 18-month-olds with Later Autism Look at Other Children Interacting: The Timing of Gaze Allocation
Viktorsson C, Bölte S, Falck-Ytter T.
J Autism Dev Disord. 2023 Aug 29. doi: 10.1007/s10803-023-06118-z. Online ahead of print.
When observing other people during naturally paced and dynamic interactions, it is essential to look at specific locations at the right time to extract a maximum of socially informative content. In this study, we aimed to investigate the looking behavior of typically developing toddlers and toddlers later diagnosed with autism when observing other children interact. The sample consisted of 98 toddlers; 22 in a low-likelihood of autism group, 60 in an elevated likelihood of autism group who did not receive a subsequent diagnosis, and 16 in an elevated likelihood group who did receive an autism diagnosis. Participants performed an eye tracking task at 18 months of age and were assessed for diagnostic outcome at 36 months. The video stimuli consisted of two children interacting, where a boy reaches out for a toy and a girl refuses to give it to him. The low likelihood group showed an expected increase in ratio of looking at the girl’s face after the boy requested the toy, as compared to before (t(21) = -3.337, p = .003). Toddlers with later autism showed a significantly lower ratio of looking at the girl’s face during this time window, as compared to the other groups (F(2,91) = 3.698, p = .029). These findings provide new leads on how social gaze may be different in children with autism in everyday life (e.g., kindergarten), and highlight the need of studying the dynamics of gaze on short time scales.
Holz NE, Zabihi M, Kia SM, Monninger M, Aggensteiner PM, Siehl S, Floris DL, Bokde ALW, Desrivières S, Flor H, Grigis A, Garavan H, Gowland P, Heinz A, Brühl R, Martinot JL, Martinot MP, Orfanos DP, Paus T, Poustka L, Fröhner JH, Smolka MN, Vaidya N, Walter H, Whelan R, Schumann G, Meyer-Lindenberg A, Brandeis D, Buitelaar JK, Nees F, Beckmann C; IMAGEN Consortium; Banaschewski T, Marquand AF.
Nat Neurosci. 2023 Aug 21. doi: 10.1038/s41593-023-01410-8. Online ahead of print.
Environmental adversities constitute potent risk factors for psychiatric disorders. Evidence suggests the brain adapts to adversity, possibly in an adversity-type and region-specific manner. However, the long-term effects of adversity on brain structure and the association of individual neurobiological heterogeneity with behavior have yet to be elucidated. Here we estimated normative models of structural brain development based on a lifespan adversity profile in a longitudinal at-risk cohort aged 25 years (n = 169). This revealed widespread morphometric changes in the brain, with partially adversity-specific features. This pattern was replicated at the age of 33 years (n = 114) and in an independent sample at 22 years (n = 115). At the individual level, greater volume contractions relative to the model were predictive of future anxiety. We show a stable neurobiological signature of adversity that persists into adulthood and emphasize the importance of considering individual-level rather than group-level predictions to explain emerging psychopathology.
Fine-grained topographic organization within somatosensory cortex during resting-state and emotional face-matching task and its association with ASD traits
Isakoglou C, Haak KV, Wolfers T, Floris DL, Llera A, Oldehinkel M, Forde NJ, Oakley BFM, Tillmann J, Holt RJ, Moessnang C, Loth E, Bourgeron T, Baron-Cohen S, Charman T, Banaschewski T, Murphy DGM, Buitelaar JK, Marquand AF, Beckmann CF.
Transl Psychiatry. 2023 Jul 27;13(1):270. doi: 10.1038/s41398-023-02559-3.
Sensory atypicalities are particularly common in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Nevertheless, our knowledge about the divergent functioning of the underlying somatosensory region and its association with ASD phenotype features is limited. We applied a data-driven approach to map the fine-grained variations in functional connectivity of the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) to the rest of the brain in 240 autistic and 164 neurotypical individuals from the EU-AIMS LEAP dataset, aged between 7 and 30. We estimated the S1 connection topography (‘connectopy’) at rest and during the emotional face-matching (Hariri) task, an established measure of emotion reactivity, and accessed its association with a set of clinical and behavioral variables. We first demonstrated that the S1 connectopy is organized along a dorsoventral axis, mapping onto the S1 somatotopic organization. We then found that its spatial characteristics were linked to the individuals’ adaptive functioning skills, as measured by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, across the whole sample. Higher functional differentiation characterized the S1 connectopies of individuals with higher daily life adaptive skills. Notably, we detected significant differences between rest and the Hariri task in the S1 connectopies, as well as their projection maps onto the rest of the brain suggesting a task-modulating effect on S1 due to emotion processing. All in all, variation of adaptive skills appears to be reflected in the brain’s mesoscale neural circuitry, as shown by the S1 connectivity profile, which is also differentially modulated during rest and emotional processing.
Pre-pragmatic language use in toddlerhood: Developmental antecedents, aetiological factors, and associations to autism
Rudling M, Portugal AM, Bölte S, Falck-Ytter T.
JCPP Adv. 2023 Jan 11;3(1):e12135. doi: 10.1002/jcv2.12135. eCollection 2023 Mar.
BACKGROUND: Pragmatic language is key for adaptive communication, but often compromised in neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Decontextualized language-to talk about events and things beyond here and now-develops early in childhood and can be seen as a pre-pragmatic ability. Little is known about the factors that contribute to decontextualized language use in toddlers and whether these are different from factors contributing to general language development.
METHODS: We studied longitudinal associations between parent-rated core language and non-verbal socio-communicative abilities at 14 months of age, and decontextualized language use at 24 months of age in children with typical and elevated likelihood of ASD (total N = 303). Using twin modelling, we also investigated genetic and environmental contributions on decontextualized language and grammar use in two-year-old twin pairs (total N = 374).
RESULTS: Core language ability was a strong predictor of later decontextualized language use in both children with and without an elevated likelihood of ASD. In contrast, social communication was only a significant predictor of decontextualized language use for children with low levels of core language. This pattern was specific to decontextualized language, and not replicated in prediction of concurrent grammatical ability. Further, there was a large genetic influence on decontextualized language at 2 years of age, which mostly overlapped with the genetic influences on grammatical ability. Shared environment influences were significant for grammatical ability, but not found on decontextualized language. In children with an elevated likelihood of ASD, decontextualized language use was negatively associated with autistic symptoms.
CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that decontextualized language is developmentally associated with, yet dissociable from, more general language development measured as grammatical ability. Already at 2 years of age, parental ratings of decontextualized language is associated to clinician-rated symptoms of ASD.