BACKGROUND: Extensive evidence indicates that cortical connectivity patterns are abnormal in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), showing both overconnectivity and underconnectivity. Since, however, studies to date have focused on either spatial or spectral dimensions, but not both simultaneously, much remains unknown about the nature of these abnormalities. In particular, it remains unknown whether abnormal connectivity patterns in ASD are driven by specific frequency bands, by spatial network properties, or by some combination of these factors.
METHODS: Magnetoencephalography recordings (15 ASD, 15 control subjects) mapped back onto cortical space were used to study resting state networks in ASD with both spatial and spectral specificity. The data were quantified using graph theoretic metrics.
RESULTS: The two major factors that drove the nature of connectivity abnormalities in ASD were the mediating frequency band and whether the network included frontal nodes. These factors determined whether clustering and integration were increased or decreased in cortical resting state networks in ASD. These measures also correlated with abnormalities in the developmental trajectory of resting state networks in ASD. Lastly, these measures correlated with ASD severity in some frequency bands and spatially specific subnetworks.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that network abnormalities in ASD are widespread, are more likely in subnetworks that include the frontal lobe, and can be opposite in nature depending on the frequency band. These findings thus elucidate seemingly contradictory prior findings of both overconnectivity and underconnectivity in ASD.