The Superior Temporal Sulcus in the Developing Brain of Autism People: Research into the maturation of STS neural connections and the possibilities of non-invasive brain stimulation to improve STS connectivity.
To date, autism is known as a lifelong disorder with extensive implications on social and communicative domains for which no effective pharmacological or biomedical treatment exist. In terms of pharmacological interventions, initial promising results are emerging for intranasal administration of oxytocin that promotes social functioning. Also strong therapeutic potential is anticipated for applying noninvasive brain stimulation over key brain loci in the autistic brain (i.e., repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)). At present however, effects of interventions were often only assessed behaviorally such that little is known on the neurophysiological changes driving the behavioral improvements. The current project involves a long-term, randomized, sham/placebo-controlled study to test the behavioral and neural effects of rTMS brain stimulation and/or oxytocin-based interventions. Both immediate and long-term effects on brain and behavior will be assessed, such that a key question will be whether repeated interventions can enhance immediate effects that outlast the time of stimulation.Overall, this project will provide important insights on the effects of brain stimulation, oxytocin or their combination on social functioning and the associated changes in brain function/connectivity/structure. This research forms an essential step for establishing the therapeutic potential of these highly promising interventions for autism.