Age-variant and age-invariant features of functional brain organization in middle-aged and older autistic adults

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Description: Background: The majority of research effort into autism has been dedicated to understanding mechanisms during early development. As a consequence, research on the broader life course of an autism spectrum condition (ASC) has largely been neglected and almost nothing is known about ASC beyond middle age. Differences in brain connectivity that arise during early development may be maintained across the lifespan and may play protective or detrimental roles in older age. Method: This study explored age-related differences in functional connectivity across middle and older age in clinically diagnosed autistic adults (n=44, 30-73 years) and in an age-matched typical comparison group (n=45). Results: The results indicated parallel age-related associations in ASC and typical ageing for the local efficiency and connection strength of the default mode network and for the segregation of the frontoparietal control network. In contrast, group differences in visual network connectivity suggested a potential safeguarding effect with less age-related decline in ASC. This divergence was mirrored in different associations between visual network connectivity and reaction time variability in the ASC and comparison group. Limitations: The study is cross-sectional and may be affected by cohort effects. Further, all participants received their autism diagnosis in adulthood. Conclusion: These results highlight the complexity of ageing in ASC with both parallel and divergent trajectories across different aspects of functional network organization.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International

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