Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have structural and functional deficits of the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), as well as problems with social and executive functions, which are associated with the TPJ. Michael Graziano and his colleagues recently showed that the TPJ is a convergence point for two major brain networks with implications in ASD: the frontoparietal control network (FPN) and the default mode network (DMN)1. To isolate these network nodes, they used a data-driven parcellation technique that allows spatial separation of partially overlapping functional processes.
In collaboration with Sabine Kastner, Graziano and his colleagues will use this technique to study network interactions of the TPJ, with a particular focus on gender differences. Women and girls with ASD are vastly understudied due to the lower frequency of ASD in females.
In the first aim of the study, Graziano, Kastner and their colleagues will study the network interactions of the DMN and FPN nodes in the TPJ in a mixed-gender neurotypical cohort with high spatial and temporal precision and full brain coverage. These experiments will identify any gender differences in TPJ network interactions in the brains of unaffected individuals and provide a solid reference point for further experiments.
In the second aim of the study, the researchers will apply the same analyses to resting-state data obtained from females with ASD, available from the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange, a publicly accessible database. Participants will be matched for scanning site, intelligence quotient and age with males with ASD and neurotypical controls. These experiments will identify within- and between-network communication abnormalities in ASD and identify gender-specific ASD-related changes in TPJ function. The researchers expect that network nodes that are poorly connected or hyper-connected to the DMN or FPN in ASD may be particularly relevant targets for therapies to correct imbalanced network dynamics, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation or neurofeedback.