Brain Connectivity Differences Shown in Autism and Sensory Processing Disorders


Innovative research by Pratik Mukherjee, MD, PhD, professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and Director of the Center for the Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases (CIND), recently demonstrated quantifiable differences between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). 

His research, published in the journal PLOS ONE on July 30, 2014, showed that when examined using Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), an MRI-based neuroimaging technique, the brains of children with ASD and SPD share white matter disruption in sensory pathways but have divergent connectivity in social-emotional pathways. While hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment is now included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum, children without ASD but demonstrating SPD can have critical developmental challenges, yet not meet a diagnostic criteria.

It is estimated that sensory processing disorders may be present in 5-16% of all U.S. children. Differentiating between Autism Spectrum Disorders and Sensory Processing Disorders could have important future implications for treatment of children who are shown to have sensory processing differences but do not have a diagnosis of an ASD.

Dr. Mukherjee, MD, PhD

Read more about this research on UCSF's News page: "Kids with Autism, Sensory Processing Disorders Show Brain Wiring Difference”.