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Emerging atypicalities in functional connectivity of language-related networks in young infants at high familial risk for ASD


Prior studies have demonstrated that infants and toddlers who later go on to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show atypical functional connectivity as well as altered neural processing of language and other auditory stimuli, but the timeline underlying the emergence of these altered developmental trajectories is still unclear. Here we used resting-state fMRI (rsfMRI) during natural sleep to examine the longitudinal development of functional connectivity in language-related networks from 1.5 to 9 months of age. We found that functional connectivity of networks that underlie the integration of sensory and motor representations, which is crucial for language development, is disrupted in infants at high familial risk (HR) for developing ASD as early as 1.5 months of age. By 9 months of age, HR infants showed hyperconnectivity between auditory and somatosensory regions whereas low risk (LR) infants displayed greater intrahemispheric connectivity between auditory cortex and higher-order temporal regions as well as the hippocampus. Furthermore, while LR infants showed robust changes in functional connectivity during the first year of life with increasing long-range connectivity accompanied by decreasing short-range connectivity over time, HR infants displayed limited developmental changes. Our findings demonstrate that early disruptions in the development of language-related network connectivity may provide an early marker for the later emergence of ASD symptomatology.

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