Structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging of autism spectrum disorders

Kimberly A. Stigler, Brenna C. McDonald, Amit Anand, Andrew J. Saykin, Christopher J. McDougle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


The neurobiology of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has become increasingly understood since the advent of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Initial observations of an above-average head circumference were supported by structural MRI studies that found evidence of increased total brain volume and early rapid brain overgrowth in affected individuals. Subsequent research revealed consistent abnormalities in cortical gray and white matter volume in ASDs. The structural integrity and orientation of white matter have been further elucidated via diffusion tensor imaging methods. The emergence of functional MRI techniques led to an enhanced understanding of the neural circuitry of ASDs, demonstrating areas of dysfunctional cortical activation and atypical cortical specialization. These studies have provided evidence of underconnectivity in distributed cortical networks integral to the core impairments associated with ASDs. Abnormalities in the default-mode network during the resting state have also been identified. Overall, structural and functional MRI research has generated important insights into the neurobiology of ASDs. Additional research is needed to further delineate the underlying brain basis of this constellation of disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-161
Number of pages16
JournalBrain research
StatePublished - Mar 22 2011


  • Autism
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Neurobiology
  • Review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology

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