Atypical functional connectome hierarchy in autism

Seok Jun Hong*, Reinder Vos de Wael, Richard A.I. Bethlehem, Sara Lariviere, Casey Paquola, Sofie L. Valk, Michael P. Milham, Adriana Di Martino, Daniel S. Margulies, Jonathan Smallwood, Boris C. Bernhardt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One paradox of autism is the co-occurrence of deficits in sensory and higher-order socio-cognitive processing. Here, we examined whether these phenotypical patterns may relate to an overarching system-level imbalance—specifically a disruption in macroscale hierarchy affecting integration and segregation of unimodal and transmodal networks. Combining connectome gradient and stepwise connectivity analysis based on task-free functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we demonstrated atypical connectivity transitions between sensory and higher-order default mode regions in a large cohort of individuals with autism relative to typically-developing controls. Further analyses indicated that reduced differentiation related to perturbed stepwise connectivity from sensory towards transmodal areas, as well as atypical long-range rich-club connectivity. Supervised pattern learning revealed that hierarchical features predicted deficits in social cognition and low-level behavioral symptoms, but not communication-related symptoms. Our findings provide new evidence for imbalances in network hierarchy in autism, which offers a parsimonious reference frame to consolidate its diverse features.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1022
Number of pages13
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2019.


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder/diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex/pathology
  • Connectome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging/methods
  • Male
  • Motion
  • Nerve Net/pathology
  • Social Behavior Disorders/pathology
  • Young Adult

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