Subtyping cognitive profiles in Autism Spectrum Disorder using a random forest algorithm


DSM-5 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) comprises a set of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction and repetitive behaviors or restricted interests, and may both affect and be affected by multiple cognitive mechanisms. This study attempts to identify and characterize cognitive subtypes within the ASD population using a random forest (RF) machine learning classification model. We trained our model on measures from seven tasks that reflect multiple levels of information processing. 47 ASD diagnosed and 58 typically developing (TD) children between the ages of 9 and 13 participated in this study. Our RF model was 72.7% accurate, with 80.7% specificity and 63.1% sensitivity. Using the RF model, we measured the proximity of each subject to every other subject, generating a distance matrix between participants. This matrix was then used in a community detection algorithm to identify subgroups within the ASD and TD groups, revealing 3 ASD and 4 TD putative subgroups with unique behavioral profiles. We then examined differences in functional brain systems between diagnostic groups and putative subgroups using resting-state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (rsfcMRI). Chi-square tests revealed a significantly greater number of between group differences (p < .05) within the cingulo-opercular, visual, and default systems as well as differences in inter-system connections in the somato-motor, dorsal attention, and subcortical systems. Many of these differences were primarily driven by specific subgroups suggesting that our method could potentially parse the variation in brain mechanisms affected by ASD.

In Neuroimage