Computational protocol: Study protocol of the ASD-Net, the German research consortium for the study of Autism Spectrum Disorder across the lifespan: from a better etiological understanding, through valid diagnosis, to more effective health care

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Protocol publication

[…] This study is a supplement to the study outlined above and is based on the assumption that effects of an OXT-enhanced SST should be particularly observable in brain regions associated with ASD and OXT like the social brain (temporoparietal junction, temporal pole, precuneus and medial prefrontal cortex), reward circuits and the amygdala []. We will therefore apply a battery of three experimental fMRI tasks to examine the effect of OXT administration on neural activation in N = 100 patients involved in the above-mentioned clinical trial before and after SST. We will focus on the aforementioned brain regions and use fMRI paradigms which target these regions and functions. Moreover, we will delineate OXT-specific modulation of the social brain using a Theory of Mind (ToM) task to activate the mentalizing network [], an affective matching task focusing particularly on the amygdala [], and an adapted version of a validated reward task combining both social and non-social cues as well as social and non-social rewards []. MR sequence protocols and stimulus presentation settings have been harmonized across the two participating sites. The main outcome variables will be neural activity in and connectivity between the aforementioned brain regions of interest during the three tasks. Behavioral data such as accuracy ratings and response times will also be used. We will identify specific neurobiological mechanisms associated with therapy response as well as particular neurobiological signatures before treatment that are associated with treatment response. Results should further allow us to develop hypotheses regarding how to tailor treatment to different subtypes of ASD and to correctly allocate individuals to treatment settings.We assume an effect size of d = .45. Given a sample size of 90 (100 minus 10% drop out), we have 85% power to detect a difference (pair-wise t-test) at a significance level of p < .001, which is a threshold often used for whole brain fMRI studies.Preprocessing and analysis of functional and structural images will be processed using SPM12 toolbox ( within the Nipype framework ( The quality of the fMRI data will be ensured by manual inspection, using artifact detection tools (ART) and a stringent motion control procedure. To account for group-specific structural brain difference a specific DARTEL template will be created []. The slice time corrected functional data will be realigned, registered, and normalized to MNI using the DARTEL template. Whole brain data (or extracted summary metrics) will be compared using linear mixed effects (LME) models with random intercepts, treatment as between- and timepoint as the within-subject factor. We will covary for age and other possibly confounding variables. […]

Pipeline specifications

Software tools SPM, Nipype
Applications Magnetic resonance imaging, Functional magnetic resonance imaging
Organisms Homo sapiens
Chemicals Oxytocin