BRAIN MRI and Autism

Autism and Brain MRI

Wessam Bou-Assaly, MD

A national research network led by UNC School of Medicine’s Joseph Piven, MD, found
that many toddlers diagnosed with autism at two years of age had a substantially greater
amount of extra-axial cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) at six and 12 months of age, before
diagnosis is possible. They also found that the more CSF at six months — as measured
through MRIs — the more severe the autism symptoms were at two years of age.
Until the last decade, the scientific and medical communities viewed CSF as merely a
protective layer of fluid between the brain and skull, not necessarily important for
proper brain development and behavioral health. But scientists then discovered that
CSF acted as a crucial filtration system for byproducts of brain metabolism.
Every day, brain cells communicate with each other. These communications cause brain
cells to continuously secrete byproducts, such as inflammatory proteins that must be
filtered out several times a day. The CSF handles this, and then it is replenished with
fresh CSF four times a day in babies and adults.
The researchers found that increased CSF predicted with nearly 70 percent accuracy
which babies would later be diagnosed with autism. It is not a perfect predictor of autism, but the CSF differences are observable on a standard MRI. “

Meditation and Brain Structure

Effect of Meditation on the Brain

Wessam Bou-Assaly, MD


The effect of the meditation on the brain has been a subject of many researches recently. Meditation appears to have an amazing neurological benefits, suspected from ancient times, just now being confirmed by MRI, functional MRI and EEG.

Most recently, a study conducted by a Harvard affiliated team out of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), concluded that meditation has tangible effects, confirmed by MRI, on the human brain structure. An 8 week program of mindfulness meditation studied by MRI scans, showed  for the first time clear evidence that meditation produces “massive changes” in brain Gray Matter.

MRI scans documented for the first time how meditation produces massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter. The structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, showed thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration.

Meditation also appears to help preserve the aging brain. A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain.

A Yale University interesting studies in the last few years, found that mindfulness meditation also decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down. Several studies have shown that meditation, though its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this.

A Johns Hopkins study looked at the relationship between Mindfulness Meditation and its effect on depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3 but equal to the effect size for antidepressants which is also 0.3, which makes the effect of Meditation sound pretty good, making the Meditation an active form of brain training.

Meditation has central effects on improving attention and concentration, reduces anxiety, especially social anxiety, can be very effective in helping people recover from various types of addiction, including quitting smoking and can help kids in school performance.

Wessam Bou-Assaly, MD is a Radiologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Wessam Bou-Assaly: Brain PET-CT and Dementia


pet-ct-brainBrain imaging with MRI, SPECT, and PET can improve diagnostic accuracy in differentiating Alzheimer Disease (AD) from potentially treatable causes of dementia such as toxic metabolic states, depression, and normal pressure hydrocephalus. When PET results are combined with clinical criteria, the false positive rate in AD can be reduced from 23% to 11%.[9] The classic pattern of AD on PET imaging is bilateral temporoparietal and posterior cingulate cortex hypometabolism; abnormal metabolism can also be seen asymmetrically, particularl yearly in the disease. Frontal lobe involvement may also be seen in later stages. The exact cause for the decline in brain glucose metabolism in AD remains unclear. Hippocampal atrophy may be seen on conventional cross-sectional imaging.

Dementia With Lewy Bodies ( DLB) is another cause of cognitive decline. Patients with DLB usually have less hippocampal atrophy than do patients with Alzheimer disease and show decreased occipital lobe blood flow or metabolism in DLB but not in Alzheimer disease.

In frontotemporal dementia, frontal and anterior temporal metabolism is predominantly decreased compared to the other types of dementia

Wessam Bou-Assaly is an experienced Neuroradiologist who practices in Ann Arbor Michigan.