"The archeologist's career ended in ruins": hemispheric differences in pun comprehension in autism.

Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, CIRC 235G, 1719 6th Ave South, Birmingham, AL 35294-0021, USA.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.13). 04/2012; 62(1):77-86. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.04.034
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Appropriate interpretation of figurative language involves inferring the speaker's intent by integrating word meaning with context. In disorders like autism, understanding intended and contextual meanings in language may pose a challenge. Such difficulties are prevalent even when individuals exhibit otherwise fluent language ability (Szatmari et al., 1990). A pun is a rhetorical technique in which a speaker deliberately invokes multiple meanings through a word or phrase likely resulting in a joke. Comprehending puns may involve identifying multiple meanings of a word, embedding it in right contexts, and understanding the underlying humor. This fMRI study investigated the brain responses associated with figures of speech like puns. In the fMRI scanner, participants read sentences containing puns (e.g. To write with a broken pencil is pointless) and control sentences (literal meaning) presented in a blocked design format. The participants' task was to silently read and understand one meaning (in the literal condition) or two meanings (in the pun condition). Participants with autism, relative to typical controls, showed an increase in overall activation while comprehending sentences containing puns, particularly within the right hemisphere as well as in relatively posterior brain areas. Overall, there was reduced response in left hemisphere areas, reduced response to humor, and more distributed recruitment of regions in autism relative to control participants. We also examined the relationship between symptom severity in autism and verbal ability with brain responses to pun comprehension finding negative and positive correlations respectively. Overall, the results from the present study suggest that individuals with autism resort to altered neural routes in comprehending language in general, and figurative language in particular.

  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Impairments in language and communication are core features of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and a substantial percentage of children with ASD do not develop speech. ASD is often characterized as a disorder of brain connectivity, and a number of studies have identified white matter impairments in affected individuals. The current study investigated white matter integrity in the speech network of high-functioning adults with ASD. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans were collected from 18 participants with ASD and 18 neurotypical participants. Probabilistic tractography was used to estimate the connection strength between ventral premotor cortex (vPMC), a cortical region responsible for speech motor planning, and five other cortical regions in the network of areas involved in speech production. We found a weaker connection between the left vPMC and the supplementary motor area in the ASD group. This pathway has been hypothesized to underlie the initiation of speech motor programs. Our results indicate that a key pathway in the speech production network is impaired in ASD, and that this impairment can occur even in the presence of normal language abilities. Therapies that result in normalization of this pathway may hold particular promise for improving speech output in ASD.
    NeuroImage. Clinical. 01/2013; 3:234-241.
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: One of the most consistent neuropsychological findings in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is a reduced interest in and impaired processing of human faces. We conducted an activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis on 14 functional imaging studies on neural correlates of face processing enrolling a total of 164 ASD patients. Subsequently, normative whole-brain functional connectivity maps for the identified regions of significant convergence were computed for the task-independent (resting-state) and task-dependent (co-activations) state in healthy subjects. Quantitative functional decoding was performed by reference to the BrainMap database. Finally, we examined the overlap of the delineated network with the results of a previous meta-analysis on structural abnormalities in ASD as well as with brain regions involved in human action observation/imitation. We found a single cluster in the left fusiform gyrus showing significantly reduced activation during face processing in ASD across all studies. Both task-dependent and task-independent analyses indicated significant functional connectivity of this region with the temporo-occipital and lateral occipital cortex, the inferior frontal and parietal cortices, the thalamus and the amygdala. Quantitative reverse inference then indicated an association of these regions mainly with face processing, affective processing, and language-related tasks. Moreover, we found that the cortex in the region of right area V5 displaying structural changes in ASD patients showed consistent connectivity with the region showing aberrant responses in the context of face processing. Finally, this network was also implicated in the human action observation/imitation network. In summary, our findings thus suggest a functionally and structurally disturbed network of occipital regions related primarily to face (but potentially also language) processing, which interact with inferior frontal as well as limbic regions and may be the core of aberrant face processing and reduced interest in faces in ASD.
    Brain Structure and Function 05/2014; · 7.84 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Humour is a vital component of human socio-affective and cognitive functioning. Recent advances in neuroscience have enabled researchers to explore this human attribute in children and adults. Humour seems to engage a core network of cortical and subcortical structures, including temporo-occipito-parietal areas involved in detecting and resolving incongruity (mismatch between expected and presented stimuli); and the mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic system and the amygdala, key structures for reward and salience processing. Examining personality effects and sex differences in the neural correlates of humour may aid in understanding typical human behaviour and the neural mechanisms underlying neuropsychiatric disorders, which can have dramatic effects on the capacity to experience social reward.
    Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10/2013; Published Online. · 31.38 Impact Factor