White matter development and language abilities during infancy in autism spectrum disorder

Tyler C. McFayden, Joshua Rutsohn, Gizem Cetin, Elizabeth Forsen, Meghan R. Swanson, Shoba S. Meera, Jason J. Wolff, Jed T. Elison, Mark D. Shen, Kelly Botteron, Stephen R. Dager, Annette Estes, Guido Gerig, Robert C. McKinstry, Juhi Pandey, Robert Schultz, Tanya St. John, Martin Styner, Young Truong, Lonnie ZwaigenbaumHeather C. Hazlett, Joseph Piven, Jessica B. Girault, Piven, Hazlett, Shen, Girault, Dager, Estes, John St. John, Botteron, Schultz, Pandey, Zwaigenbaum, Elison, Wolff, Styner, Gerig, McKinstry, Truong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


White matter (WM) fiber tract differences are present in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and could be important markers of behavior. One of the earliest phenotypic differences in ASD are language atypicalities. Although language has been linked to WM in typical development, no work has evaluated this association in early ASD. Participants came from the Infant Brain Imaging Study and included 321 infant siblings of children with ASD at high likelihood (HL) for developing ASD; 70 HL infants were later diagnosed with ASD (HL-ASD), and 251 HL infants were not diagnosed with ASD (HL-Neg). A control sample of 140 low likelihood infants not diagnosed with ASD (LL-Neg) were also included. Infants contributed expressive language, receptive language, and diffusion tensor imaging data at 6-, 12-, and 24 months. Mixed effects regression models were conducted to evaluate associations between WM and language trajectories. Trajectories of microstructural changes in the right arcuate fasciculus were associated with expressive language development. HL-ASD infants demonstrated a different developmental pattern compared to the HL-Neg and LL-Neg groups, wherein the HL-ASD group exhibited a positive association between WM fractional anisotropy and language whereas HL-Neg and LL-Neg groups showed weak or no association. No other fiber tracts demonstrated significant associations with language. In conclusion, results indicated arcuate fasciculus WM is linked to language in early toddlerhood for autistic toddlers, with the strongest associations emerging around 24 months. To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate associations between language and WM development during the pre-symptomatic period in ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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