Research doctors from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania have recently gained insights into autism after using a unique imaging technique that combines two imaging techniques and applies them in a manner not used before. The researchers used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) combined with a new method called ABM and applied it to studying the gray matter of a set of autistic patients.
"DTI is traditionally used to study the brain's white matter, as well as the brain fibers. However, Dr. Ashtari's team applied it to the assessment of gray matter by employing apparent diffusion coefficient based morphometry (ABM), a new method that highlights brain regions with potential gray matter volume changes. By adding ABM to DTI, the researchers can detect subtle regional or localized changes in the gray matter." (source)
Through the use of this unique imaging approach, the researchers were able to identify that autistic brains appear to have different amounts of gray matter (in comparison with the average brain) in the areas which control observational learning and social processing. They further determined that an "abnormally functioning mirror neuron system" may be responsible for the symptoms of social awkwardness that are seen in people with autism. This research is important to two different medical communities. First, of course, it is important to people who are studying autism. Secondly, it is important to doctors who use DTI and other imaging because of the unique approach that was used in the study. Additional exploration of the use of DTI scanning on the gray matter of the brain could be seen in the future as a result of this study. Question of the Day: How familiar are you with DTI imaging? photo link