Autism is a complex developmental disability that characterized by deficits in social interaction, language skills, repetitive stereotyped behaviors and restricted interests. Although great heterogeneity exists, previous findings suggest that autism has atypical brain connectivity patterns and disrupted small-world network properties. However, the organizational alterations in the autistic brain network are still poorly understood. We explored possible organizational alterations of 49 autistic children and 51 typically developing controls, by investigating their brain network metrics that are constructed upon cortical thickness correlations. Three modules were identified in controls, including cortical regions associated with brain functions of executive strategic, spatial/auditory/visual, and self-reference/episodic memory. There are also three modules found in autistic children with similar patterns. Compared with controls, autism demonstrates significantly reduced gross network modularity, and a larger number of inter-module connections. However, the autistic brain network demonstrates increased intra- and inter-module connectivity in brain regions including middle frontal gyrus, inferior parietal gyrus, and cingulate, suggesting one underlying compensatory mechanism associated with brain functions of self-reference and episodic memory. Results also show that there is increased correlation strength between regions inside frontal lobe, as well as impaired correlation strength between frontotemporal and frontoparietal regions. This alteration of correlation strength may contribute to the organization alteration of network structures in autistic brains.
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