The effect of age, diagnosis, and their interaction on vertex-based measures of cortical thickness and surface area in autism spectrum disorder

C Ecker, A Shahidiani, Y Feng, E Daly, C Murphy, V D'Almeida, S Deoni, S C Williams, N Gillan, M Gudbrandsen, R Wichers, D Andrews, L Van Hemert, D G M Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that is accompanied by an atypical development of brain maturation. So far, brain development has mainly been studied during early childhood in ASD, and using measures of total or lobular brain volume. However, cortical volumetric measures are a product of two distinct biological neuroanatomical features, cortical thickness, and surface area, which most likely also have different neurodevelopmental trajectories in ASD. Here, we therefore examined age-related differences in cortical thickness and surface area in a cross-sectional sample of 77 male individuals with ASD ranging from 7 to 25 years of age, and 77 male neurotypical controls matched for age and FSIQ. Surface-based measures were analyzed using a general linear model (GLM) including linear, quadratic, and cubic age terms, as well as their interactions with the main effect of group. When controlling for the effects of age, individuals with ASD had spatially distributed reductions in cortical thickness relative to controls, particularly in fronto-temporal regions, and also showed significantly reduced surface area in the prefrontal cortex and the anterior temporal lobe. We also observed significant group × age interactions for both measures. However, while cortical thickness was best predicted by a quadratic age term, the neurodevelopmental trajectory for measures of surface area was mostly linear. Our findings suggest that ASD is accompanied by age-related and region-specific reductions in cortical thickness and surface area during childhood and early adulthood. Thus, differences in the neurodevelopmental trajectory of maturation for both measures need to be taken into account when interpreting between-group differences overall.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1157-70
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neural Transmission
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2014


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging
  • Cerebral Cortex/growth & development
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive/pathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Organ Size
  • Young Adult

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