A fast and accurate test for Autism has been developed by researchers at McLean Hospital and the University of Utah. It is hoped that the biologically based test, which uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to measure brain activity, can replace the subjective test currently used for diagnosis of the condition.

MRI is used in the test to detect deviations in brain circuitry in a process called "diffusion tensor imaging."

“It provides pictures and measurements of the microscopic fiber structures of the brain that enable language, social, and emotional functioning, which can reveal deviations that are not found in those without autism,” Nicholas Lange, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Neurostatistics Laboratory at McLean Hospital, said. “This is not yet ready for prime time use in the clinic yet, but the findings are the most promising thus far.”

In the so-named Lange-Lainhart test, subjects were put in an MRI scanner that was programmed to be sensitive to water diffusion along the axons of the brain to measure microscopic features of the brain’s circuitry. The test was able to detect the disorder in individuals with high-functioning autism with 94 percent accuracy.

“Indeed, we have new ways to discover more about the biological basis of autism and how to improve the lives of individuals with the disorder,” said senior author Janet Lainhart, principal investigator of the research at the University of Utah. “The differences picked up on the study correlate with clinical symptoms that are part of the features of autism.”

Future studies will also investigate other brain disorders such as developmental language disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The study was published in Autism Research. Co-authors included Molly DuBray, Alyson Froehlich, Brad Wright, and P. Thomas Fletcher of the University of Utah; Erin Bigler of Brigham Young University; Nagesh Adluru, Alexander Alexander, and Jee Eun Lee of the University of Wisconsin; and Michael Froimowitz and Caitlin Ravichandran at Harvard and McLean.