Psychopathy a spectrum disorder, same behavioral elements found in autism spectrum disorder

University of Toronto neuroscientists have a discovery that paves the way for future research to understand both the symptoms of psychopathopathy and the severity of symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The researchers discovered that a subset of sexually aggressive preteens and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display features of psychopathy, including sexual harassment and aggressiveness, in a subset of facial brain scans from children.

Researchers from the U of T’s Department of Psychology and Centre for Autism Research used advanced brain imaging, optogenetics and computer modeling in order to uncover patterns of caudate functions and behavior in the human brains of individuals with ASD.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study took advantage of methodological advances made possible through computational modeling, a powerful tool for identifying the traces of an algorithm as it is run, by combining data with mathematical models. Edwards said such computational towers allowed him to uncover patterns unique to ASD.

“Most brain sex-specific brain imaging studies look at one sex, and the behavior studied is the same in all populations, but autism-specific brain imaging studies cannot address this, ” says Edwards. “This research advances this capability by looking at multiple populations with over 160 diagnoses and unique brain imaging methods, including the use of crying, normal eye movement and the naked mole-rat. “

Using striatal electrodes used for a variety of neuroanatomical studies, the study team worked with a large cohort comprised of 77 male and 81 female preschoolers (unaffiliated, exclusively, asymptomatic) with ASD and 91 controls (unaffiliated, typically conceived) without ASD. The conclusion was that the groups display unique clinical features of psychopathology, typical for autism.