Language-association cortex asymmetry in autism and specific language impairment.
Language deficits are among the core impairments of autism. We previously reported asymmetry reversal of frontal language cortex in boys with autism. Specific language impairment (SLI) and autism share similar language deficits and may share genetic links. This study evaluated asymmetry of frontal language cortex in a new, independent sample of right-handed boys, including a new sample of boys with autism and a group of boys with SLI. The boys with autism were divided into those with language impairment (ALI) and those with normal language ability (ALN). Subjects (right-handed, aged 6.2-13.4 years) included 22 boys with autism (16 ALI and 6 ALN), 9 boys with a history of or present SLI, and 11 normal controls. MRI brain scans were segmented into grey and white matter; then the cerebral cortex was parcellated into 48 gyral-based divisions per hemisphere. Group differences in volumetric asymmetry were predicted a priori in language-related regions in inferior lateral frontal (Broca's area) and posterior superior temporal cortex. Language impaired boys with autism and SLI both had significant reversal of asymmetry in frontal language-related cortex; larger on the right side in both groups of language impaired boys and larger on the left in both unimpaired language groups, strengthening a phenotypic link between ALI and SLI. Thus, we replicated the observation of reversed asymmetry in frontal language cortex reported previously in an independent autism sample, and observed similar reversal in boys with SLI, further strengthening a phenotypic link between SLI and a subgroup of autism. Linguistically unimpaired boys with autism had similar asymmetry compared with the control group, suggesting that Broca's area asymmetry reversal is related more to language impairment than specifically to autism diagnosis.