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Understanding the relationship between cerebellar structure and social abilities in young subjects with autism-related symptoms

​A collaborative study by NeuroSpin researchers, using anatomical MRI data and a dimensional approach in 850 subjects from the Healthy Brain Network cohort, shows how the social skills of these children and adolescents are linked to the structure of their cerebellum.

Published on 12 September 2023


Located at the bottom and back of the brain, the cerebellum is an essential region for controlling motor function, but it also contributes to higher cognitive functions, including social behavior. It is thus involved in a wide range of cognitive functions (working memory, language processing) and in general intelligence. Subjects with autism show dysfunctions in social interactions, communication, behaviors and activities. Given the lack of singularity in the cerebellar anatomy of autistic subjects, recently observed by the team (see Joliot news), it seems more relevant to study the relationship between the neuroanatomical characteristics of these individuals with regard to their clinical and psychological dimensions (dimensional approach).


To conduct their study using this approach, the researchers analyzed anatomical MRI data from a large pediatric and transdiagnostic sample, the Healthy Brain Network, an open-access developmental cohort. They performed image segmentation of the cerebellum using automated software to study how social communication abilities, assessed with the social component of the Social Reciprocity Scale (SRS), were associated with cerebellar structure. They found a significant association between the cerebellum (more precisely, the volume of grey matter in the posterior-superior lobe of the cerebellum), IQ and social communication performance in a group of 850 children and adolescents from the HBN cohort (mean age 10.8 ± 3 years; range 5-18 years).

The results highlight a complex relationship between the structure of certain areas of the cerebellum, social performance and IQ, and go beyond the classic case/control comparison (categorical approach). They confirm the involvement of the cerebellum in social and cognitive processes.

Contacts : Charles Laidi ( and Josselin Houenou (

- The Healthy Brain Network is a mental health reference cohort, consisting of a large set of transdiagnostic brain imaging data and clinical/behavioral assessments of children and adolescents aged 5 to 21 suffering from or at risk of psychiatric disorders.
- The transdiagnostic approach considers that the psychological processes/mechanisms underlying psychopathological phenomena are common to all apparently very different disorders; it enables psychotherapeutic care to be tailored to the functioning of each individual, by targeting the specific processes present in that person.
- Image segmentation involves the precise delineation of a region of interest by grouping pixels according to predefined criteria in order to construct regions or classes of pixels.
- CERES (CEREbellum Segmentation) is a multi-atlas segmentation method, capable of automatically segmenting the lobules of the cerebellum.

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