Fractionation of social brain circuits in autism spectrum disorders

Section on Cognitive Neuropsychology, Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. .
Brain (Impact Factor: 9.2). 07/2012; 135(Pt 9):2711-25. DOI: 10.1093/brain/aws160
Source: PubMed


Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disorders characterized by impairments in social and communication abilities and repetitive behaviours. Converging neuroscientific evidence has suggested that the neuropathology of autism spectrum disorders is widely distributed, involving impaired connectivity throughout the brain. Here, we evaluate the hypothesis that decreased connectivity in high-functioning adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder relative to typically developing adolescents is concentrated within domain-specific circuits that are specialized for social processing. Using a novel whole-brain connectivity approach in functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that not only are decreases in connectivity most pronounced between regions of the social brain but also they are selective to connections between limbic-related brain regions involved in affective aspects of social processing from other parts of the social brain that support language and sensorimotor processes. This selective pattern was independently obtained for correlations with measures of social symptom severity, implying a fractionation of the social brain in autism spectrum disorders at the level of whole circuits.

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