Studies have shown cortical alterations in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as well as in individuals with high polygenic risk for ASD. An important addition to the study of altered cortical anatomy is the investigation of the underlying brain network architecture that may reveal brain-wide mechanisms in ASD and in polygenic risk for ASD. Such an approach has been proven useful in other psychiatric disorders by revealing that brain network architecture shapes (to an extent) the disorder-related cortical alterations. This study uses data from a clinical dataset—560 male subjects (266 individuals with ASD and 294 healthy individuals, CTL, mean age at 17.2 years) from the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange database, and data of 391 healthy individuals (207 males, mean age at 12.1 years) from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition and Genetics database. ASD-related cortical alterations (group difference, ASD-CTL, in cortical thickness) and cortical correlates of polygenic risk for ASD were assessed, and then statistically compared with structural connectome-based network measures (such as hubs) using spin permutation tests. Next, we investigated whether polygenic risk for ASD could be predicted by network architecture by building machine-learning based prediction models, and whether the top predictors of the model were identified as disease epicenters of ASD. We observed that ASD-related cortical alterations as well as cortical correlates of polygenic risk for ASD implicated cortical hubs more strongly than non-hub regions. We also observed that age progression of ASD-related cortical alterations and cortical correlates of polygenic risk for ASD implicated cortical hubs more strongly than non-hub regions. Further investigation revealed that structural connectomes predicted polygenic risk for ASD (r = 0.30, p < 0.0001), and two brain regions (the left inferior parietal and left suparmarginal) with top predictive connections were identified as disease epicenters of ASD. Our study highlights a critical role of network architecture in a continuum model of ASD spanning from healthy individuals with genetic risk to individuals with ASD. Our study also highlights the strength of investigating polygenic risk scores in addition to multi-modal neuroimaging measures to better understand the interplay between genetic risk and brain alterations associated with ASD.
|Number of pages||9|
|Early online date||27 Dec 2022|
|Publication status||Published - Mar 2023|
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
BK was supported by a Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF) – NARSAD 2020 YI Grant (Grant Number 29492). ACE was supported by a CIHR Grant (Fund 254573). UV has been funded by Estonian Research Council’s personal research funding start-up grant PSG656. JG was supported by National Nature Science Foundation of China (Grant Number 62003058).
© 2022, The Author(s).