Basal ganglia shapes predict social, communication, and motor dysfunctions in boys with autism spectrum disorder.
OBJECTIVE: Basal ganglia abnormalities have been suggested as contributing to motor, social, and communicative impairments in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Volumetric analyses offer limited ability to detect localized differences in basal ganglia structure. Our objective was to investigate basal ganglia shape abnormalities and their association with behavioral features of ASD, which may involve multiple frontal-subcortical circuits. METHOD: Basal ganglia were manually delineated from MR images of 32 boys with ASD and 45 typically developing (TD) boys. Large deformation diffeomorphic metric mapping (LDDMM) was used to assess between-group differences in basal ganglia shape and to examine associations with motor, praxis, and reciprocal social and communicative impairments in ASD. RESULTS: Boys with ASD showed changes in right basal ganglia shape as compared with TD boys; surface deformation was present in the caudate, putamen, and globus pallidus but did not stand up to correction for multiple comparisons. Brain-behavior correlation findings were more robust; analyses accounting for multiple comparisons revealed, in boys with ASD, surface inward deformation of the right posterior putamen predicted poorer motor skill, whereas surface inward deformation of the bilateral anterior and posterior putamen predicted poorer praxis. Surface outward deformation in the bilateral medial caudate head predicted greater reciprocal social and communicative impairment. CONCLUSIONS: Motor, social, and communicative impairments in boys with ASD are associated with shape abnormalities in the basal ganglia. The findings suggest abnormalities within parallel frontal-subcortical circuits are differentially associated with impaired acquisition of motor and reciprocal social and communicative skills in ASD.