Autism Research

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Online ISSN: 1939-3806
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Article
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication as well as restricted interests or repetitive behaviors. Cytogenetic studies have implicated large chromosomal aberrations in the etiology of approximately 5-7% of autism patients, and the recent advent of array-based techniques allows the exploration of submicroscopic copy number variations (CNVs). We genotyped a 14-year-old boy with autism, spherocytosis and other physical dysmorphia, his parents, and two non-autistic siblings with the Illumina Human 1M Beadchip as part of a study of the molecular genetics of autism and determined copy number variants using the PennCNV algorithm. We identified and validated a de novo 1.5 Mb microdeletion of 14q23.2-23.3 in our autistic patient. This region contains 15 genes, including spectrin beta (SPTB), encoding a cytoskeletal protein previously associated with spherocytosis, methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase 1 (MTHFD1), a folate metabolizing enzyme previously associated with bipoloar disorder and schizophrenia, pleckstrin homology domain-containing family G member 3 (PLEKHG3), a guanide nucleotide exchange enriched in the brain, and churchill domain containing protein 1 (CHURC1), homologs of which regulate neuronal development in model organisms. While a similar deletion has previously been reported in a family with spherocytosis, severe learning disabilities, and mild mental retardation, this is the first implication of chr14q23.2-23.3 in the etiology of autism and points to MTHFD1, PLEKHG3, and CHURC1 as potential candidate genes contributing to autism risk.
 
FISH and CSHQ Scores for Int Dup(15) Subjects
Size and breakpoints of interstitial duplication cases in this study. The boundaries of the duplications were determined using targeted or whole-genome array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH) and the estimated base positions for the duplicated regions mapped to human genome assembly hg19 using the UCSC genome browser (green bars). Additional tracks included in this image are the ideogram track (showing cytogenetic bands), the segmental duplication track (showing the locations of segmental duplications >1000 bp) and the Duke Unique 35 track (showing the mapability of a given region of the genome). The locations of several significant RefSeq genes across the duplicated region are indicated in blue, but a comprehensive list of genes in this region is available at http://genome.ucsc.edu. The locations of canonical breakpoints for both interstitial and isodicentric duplications in this region are indicated as BP1–BP5. Note that these breakpoint locations coincide with the presence of an increased number of complex segmental duplications and a decrease in the mapability at this locus. Note the apparent gap in segmental duplications and mapability at the proximal end of the diagram. This is also the location of a gap in the hg19 alignment and is still unresolved. A more detailed view of both the proximal and distal breakpoints for these cases is available in Figure S1.
An example of a methylation-sensitive high-resolution melting (MS-HRM) result used to determine the parent of origin of the duplicated chromosome. (A) Family of a de novo maternally derived duplication (801-011), where the mother (pink) and the father (blue) have signal intensities in the normal range between 52–60%, and subject 801-011 (black) has a maternally derived duplication with signal intensity ≥66%. (B) A paternally derived duplication in subject 801-005, where parental DNA was unavailable. The signal intensity is ≤40% in this subject (black) and corresponds to a duplication on the paternal chromosome. More details on this method can be found in Urraca et al. [2010].
Excessive beta activity on electroencephalogram (EEG) in a child with an interstitial duplication of chromosome 15q11-q13. Arrows point to beta spikes in this example waking record EEG. This type of beta activity is typically seen in children on benzodiazapines, but none of the subjects were taking these medications.
Facial features of int dup(15) subjects. Most individuals pictured are maternal duplication with the exception of subjects 801-013, 801-014 and 801-015. The two photos at the far right are from siblings 801-014 and 801-015. Note the long philtrum, shortened bulbous nose and full cheeks in most individuals. All subjects pictured consented to the use of their image for publication purposes in accordance with Institutional Review Board (IRB) policy.
Article
Chromosomal copy number variants (CNV) are the most common genetic lesion found in autism. Many autism-associated CNVs are duplications of chromosome 15q. Although most cases of interstitial (int) dup(15) that present clinically are de novo and maternally derived or inherited, both pathogenic and unaffected paternal duplications of 15q have been identified. We performed a phenotype/genotype analysis of individuals with interstitial 15q duplications to broaden our understanding of the 15q syndrome and investigate the contribution of 15q duplication to increased autism risk. All subjects were recruited solely on the basis of interstitial duplication 15q11.2-q13 status. Comparative array genome hybridization was used to determine the duplication size and boundaries while the methylation status of the maternally methylated small nuclear ribonucleoprotein polypeptide N gene was used to determine the parent of origin of the duplication. We determined the duplication size and parental origin for 14 int dup(15) subjects: 10 maternal and 4 paternal cases. The majority of int dup(15) cases recruited were maternal in origin, most likely due to our finding that maternal duplication was coincident with autism spectrum disorder. The size of the duplication did not correlate with the severity of the phenotype as established by Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale calibrated severity score. We identified phenotypes not comprehensively described before in this cohort including mild facial dysmorphism, sleep problems and an unusual electroencephalogram variant. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the maternally expressed ubiquitin protein ligase E3A gene is primarily responsible for the autism phenotype in int dup(15) since all maternal cases tested presented on the autism spectrum. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Recurrent deletions and duplications at chromosomal region 16p11.2 are variably associated with speech delay, autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, schizophrenia, and cognitive impairments. Social communication deficits are a primary diagnostic symptom of autism. Here we investigated ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) in young adult male 16p11.2 deletion mice during a novel three-phase male-female social interaction test that detects vocalizations emitted by a male in the presence of an estrous female, how the male changes its calling when the female is suddenly absent, and the extent to which calls resume when the female returns. Strikingly fewer vocalizations were detected in two independent cohorts of 16p11.2 heterozygous deletion males (+/−) during the first exposure to an unfamiliar estrous female, as compared to wildtype littermates (+/+). When the female was removed, +/+ emitted calls, but at a much lower level, whereas +/− males called minimally. Sensory and motor abnormalities were detected in +/−, including higher nociceptive thresholds, a complete absence of acoustic startle responses, and hearing loss in all +/− as confirmed by lack of auditory brainstem responses to frequencies between 8 and 100 kHz. Stereotyped circling and backflipping appeared in a small percentage of individuals, as previously reported. However, these sensory and motor phenotypes could not directly explain the low vocalizations in 16p11.2 deletion mice, since (a) +/− males displayed normal abilities to emit vocalizations when the female was subsequently reintroduced, and (b) +/− vocalized less than +/+ to social odor cues delivered on an inanimate cotton swab. Our findings support the concept that mouse USVs in social settings represent a response to social cues, and that 16p11.2 deletion mice are deficient in their initial USVs responses to novel social cues. Autism Res 2015. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
In a developmentally delayed girl with an autism spectrum disorder, Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array analysis showed a de novo 280 kb deletion on chromosome 16q23.2 involving two genes, GAN and CMIP. Inactivating mutations in GAN cause the autosomal recessive disorder giant axonal neuropathy, not present in our patient. CMIP was recently implicated in the etiology of specific language impairment by genome-wide association analysis. It modulates phonological short-term memory and hence plays an important role in language acquisition. Overlaps of specific language impairment and autism have been debated in the literature regarding the phenotypical language profile as well as etiology. Our patient illustrates that haploinsufficiency of CMIP may contribute to autism spectrum disorders. Our finding further supports the existence of a genetic overlap in the etiology of specific language impairment and autism.
 
Article
Since the 1970s, the prevalence of multiple births (MBs) in the United States has increased significantly. This has been attributed, in large part, to iatrogenic MBs resulting from infertility treatments that include ovulation stimulation. A past study has indicated that children from MBs have an increased prevalence of cerebral palsy (CP). Other studies also have suggested an association between MBs and intellectual disabilities (ID) and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); however, results have been inconsistent. From the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, a surveillance project among several US populations, we obtained MB estimates among children born in 1994 and classified by 8 years of age as having: an ASD (n=1,626 total children from 11 sites; 50 born as part of an MB); CP (n=302 total children from 3 sites; 25 born as part of an MB); or ID (n=1,195 total children from 3 sites; 45 born as part of an MB). All three MB estimates were notably higher than age-adjusted expected estimates of naturally conceived MBs derived from 1971 US natality data. However, when MB estimates from the ADDM Network were compared with expected MB estimates derived from 1994 natality data for the states corresponding to the relevant ADDM Network sites, we observed no association with ASDs (observed/expected=1.08 [0.78-1.38]), a moderate, but not statistically significant association with ID (observed/expected=1.34 [0.95-1.73]), and a strong association with CP (observed/expected=2.96 [1.80-4.12]). Further investigation of specific types of MBs (natural vs. iatrogenic) is warranted.
 
Article
Velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS; 22q11.2 deletion syndrome) results from a genetic mutation that increases risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We compared Theory of Mind (ToM) skills in 63 individuals with VCFS (25% with an ASD diagnosis) and 43 typically developing controls, and investigated the relationship of ToM to reciprocal social behavior. We administered a video-based task to assess mentalizing at two sites University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University. The videos depicted interactions representing complex mental states (ToM condition), or simple movements (Random condition). Verbal descriptions of the videos were rated for Intentionality (i.e. mentalizing) and Appropriateness. Using Repeated Measures analysis of variance (ANOVA), we assessed the effects of VCFS and ASD on Intentionality and Appropriateness, and the relationship of mentalizing to Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) scores. Results indicated that individuals with VCFS overall had lower Intentionality and Appropriateness scores than controls for ToM but not for Random scenes. In the SUNY sample, individuals with VCFS, both with and without ASD, performed more poorly than controls on the ToM condition; however, in the UCLA sample, only individuals with VCFS without ASD performed significantly worse than controls on the ToM condition. Controlling for site and age, performance on the ToM condition was significantly correlated with SRS scores. Individuals with VCFS, regardless of an ASD diagnosis, showed impairments in the spontaneous attribution of mental states to abstract visual stimuli, which may underlie real-life problems with social interactions. A better understanding of the social deficits in VCFS is essential for the development of targeted behavioral interventions. Autism Res 2012, ••: ••-••. © 2012 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a phenotypically and etiologically heterogeneous set of disorders that include obsessive-compulsive behaviors (OCB) that partially overlap with symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The OCB seen in ASD vary depending on the individual's mental and chronological age as well as the etiology of their ASD. Although progress has been made in the measurement of the OCB associated with ASD, more work is needed including the potential identification of heritable endophenotypes. Likewise, important progress toward the understanding of genetic influences in ASD has been made by greater refinement of relevant phenotypes using a broad range of study designs, including twin and family-genetic studies, parametric and nonparametric linkage analyses, as well as candidate gene studies and the study of rare genetic variants. These genetic analyses could lead to the refinement of the OCB phenotypes as larger samples are studied and specific associations are replicated. Like ASD, OCB are likely to prove to be multidimensional and polygenic. Some of the vulnerability genes may prove to be generalist genes influencing the phenotypic expression of both ASD and OCD while others will be specific to subcomponents of the ASD phenotype. In order to discover molecular and genetic mechanisms, collaborative approaches need to generate shared samples, resources, novel genomic technologies, as well as more refined phenotypes and innovative statistical approaches. There is a growing need to identify the range of molecular pathways involved in OCB related to ASD in order to develop novel treatment interventions.
 
Article
Prenatal testosterone (PT) effects have been proposed to increase systemizing (the drive to understand lawful input-output relationships), to decrease empathizing (the drive to understand others), and to cause autism via hypermasculinization of the brain. Digit ratio 2D:4D is a putative marker of PT effects in humans. An online study (n = 1896) into the relationship between the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (a widely used measure of empathizing) and self-measured 2D:4D in a nonclinical sample is reported. No evidence for a link between empathizing and 2D:4D in either females or males emerged. Further, three meta-analyses are presented that look into the relationships of 2D:4D with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), systemizing, and empathizing. 2D:4D was substantially lower (more masculine) in ASD-affected individuals than in normal controls (d = -0.58, P < 0.001). However, 2D:4D was found to be virtually unrelated to systemizing and empathizing in normal adults. The results support the idea that high PT is a risk factor for autism, but they challenge the view that PT substantially contributes to sex differences in systemizing and empathizing. Possibly, this pattern reflects an interaction effect, whereby PT drives ASD characteristic changes only in brains with a specific damage.
 
Article
New evidence suggests that autism may be associated with (a) varied behavioral responses to folate therapy and (b) metabolic anomalies, including those in folate metabolism, that contribute to hypomethylation of DNA. We hypothesized that children with autism who are homozygous for the MTHFR 677 T allele (TT) and, to a lesser extent those with the CT variant, would exhibit more behavioral problems and/or more severe problematic behaviors than homozygous wild-type (CC) individuals because of difficulties in effectively converting 5,10-MTHF to 5-MTHF. Data from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) collection were analyzed for all children who met strict criteria for autism per the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and who had been genotyped for the 677 C to T MTHFR polymorphism (n=147). Chi-square tests, logistic regression, and one-way ANOVAs were used to determine whether differences existed among MTHFR genotypes for specific behaviors on the ADI-R and indices for level of functioning. Exploratory results indicated four behaviors from the ADI-R that were more common and problematic (95% CI) among those with at least one copy of the T allele as compared to homozygous wild-type individuals: direct gaze, current complex body movements, a history of self-injurious behavior, and current overactivity (ORs=2.72, 2.33, 2.12, 2.47, respectively). No differences existed among genotypes for level of functioning as measured with the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Third Edition, Ravens Colored Progressive Matrices, or the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales. Findings call for further investigation of the relationship between folate metabolism and problem behaviors among children with autism.
 
Article
Homeobox A1 (HOXA1) has been proposed as a candidate gene for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as it regulates embryological patterning of hind-brain structures implicated in autism neurobiology. In line with this notion, a nonsynonymous single nucleotide polymorphism within a highly conserved domain of HOXA1--A218G (rs10951154)--has been linked to both ASD risk, and cross-sectional differences in superior posterior lobar cerebellar anatomy in late adulthood. Despite evidence for early onset and developmentally dynamic cerebellar involvement in ASD, little is known of the relationship between A218G genotype and maturation of the cerebellum over early development. We addressed this issue using 296 longitudinally acquired structural magnetic resonance imaging brain scans from 116 healthy individuals between 5 and 23 years of age. Mixed models were used to compare the relationship between age and semi-automated measures of cerebellar volume in A-homozygotes (AA) and carriers of the G allele (Gcar). Total cerebellar volume increased between ages of 5 and 23 years in both groups. However, this was accelerated in the Gcar relative to the AA group (Genotype-by-age interaction term, P = 0.03), and driven by genotype-dependent differences in the rate of bilateral superior posterior lobar volume change with age (P = 0.002). Resultantly, although superior posterior lobar volume did not differ significantly between genotype groups at age 5 (P = 0.9), by age 23 it was 12% greater in Gcar than AA (P = 0.002). Our results suggest that common genetic variation within this putative ASD risk gene has the capacity to modify the development of cerebellar systems implicated in ASD neurobiology.
 
Article
Neuroligin-3 is a member of the class of cell adhesion proteins that mediate synapse development and have been implicated in autism. Mice with the human R451C mutation (NL3), identical to the point mutation found in two brothers with autism spectrum disorders, were generated and phenotyped in multiple behavioral assays with face validity to the diagnostic symptoms of autism. No differences between NL3 and their wildtype (WT) littermate controls were detected on measures of juvenile reciprocal social interaction, adult social approach, cognitive abilities, and resistance to change in a spatial habit, findings which were replicated in several cohorts of males and females. Physical and procedural abilities were similar across genotypes on measures of general health, sensory abilities, sensorimotor gating, motor functions, and anxiety-related traits. Minor developmental differences were detected between NL3 and WT, including slightly different rates of somatic growth, slower righting reflexes at postnatal days 2-6, faster homing reflexes in females, and less vocalizations on postnatal day 8 in males. Significant differences in NL3 adults included somewhat longer latencies to fall from the rotarod, less vertical activity in the open field, and less acoustic startle to high decibel tones. The humanized R451C mutation in mice did not result in apparent autism-like phenotypes, but produced detectable functional consequences that may be interpreted in terms of physical development and/or reduced sensitivity to stimuli.
 
Article
This study further investigates findings of impairment in Gestalt, but not global processing in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) [Brosnan, Scott, Fox, & Pye, 2004]. Nineteen males with ASD and nineteen typically developing (TD) males matched by nonverbal ability, took part in five Gestalt perceptual grouping tasks. Results showed that performance differed according to grouping type. The ASD group showed typical performance for grouping by proximity and by alignment, impairment on low difficulty trials for orientation and luminance similarity, and general impairment for grouping by shape similarity. Group differences were also observed developmentally; for the ASD group, with the exception of grouping by shape similarity, perceptual grouping performance was poorer at lower than higher levels of nonverbal ability. In contrast, no developmental progression was observed in the TD controls.
 
Article
Although it has been well established that individuals with autism exhibit difficulties in their face recognition abilities, it has been debated whether this deficit reflects a category-specific impairment of faces or a general perceptual bias toward the local-level information in a stimulus. In this study, the Let's Face It! Skills Battery [Tanaka & Schultz, 2008] of developmental face- and object-processing measures was administered to a large sample of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing children. The main finding was that when matched for age and IQ, individuals with ASD were selectively impaired in their ability to recognize faces across changes in orientation, expression and featural information. In a face discrimination task, ASD participants showed a preserved ability to discriminate featural and configural information in the mouth region of a face, but were compromised in their ability to discriminate featural and configural information in the eyes. On object-processing tasks, ASD participants demonstrated a normal ability to recognize automobiles across changes in orientation and a superior ability to discriminate featural and configural information in houses. These findings indicate that the face-processing deficits in ASD are not due to a local-processing bias, but reflect a category-specific impairment of faces characterized by a failure to form view-invariant face representations and discriminate information in the eye region of the face.
 
Participant characteristics Group
Article
Across studies, analysis of performance on classic measures of executive functioning (EF) among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suggests that people with this disorder may be impaired only when tasks are experimenter-administered, but not when the same tasks are computer-administered. This would imply that the underlying cause of apparent executive dysfunction in ASD is a diminished ability to engage with another person/comprehend what another person expects, rather than a diminution of the control processes that typically underpin EF task performance. However, this suggestion is limited because, to our knowledge, no study has directly compared the equivalence of computer-administered and standard experimenter-administered versions of EF tasks that have been presented in counterbalanced order among a common sample of individuals with ASD. In the current study, 21 children with ASD and 22 age- and intelligence quotient (IQ)-matched comparison participants completed, in counterbalanced order, computerised and manual versions of both a planning task and a cognitive flexibility/set-shifting task. Contrary to expectation, results indicated that participants with ASD were equally impaired in terms of the key dependent variable on standard and computerised versions of both tasks. Practically, these results suggest that computer-administered and experimenter-administered versions of planning and set-shifting tasks are equivalent among individuals with ASD and can be used interchangeably in studies of EF among this population. Theoretically, these results challenge the notion that poor performance on EF tasks among school-aged children with ASD is only the result of a limited ability to engage with a human experimenter/comprehend socially presented rules. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Previous studies found substantial variability in adult outcome for people with autism whose cognitive functioning was within the near-average and average ranges. This study examined adult outcome for 41 such individuals (38 men and 3 women) originally identified through an epidemiological survey of autism in Utah. Mean age at the time of their previous cognitive assessment was 7.2 years (SD=4.1, range=3.1-25.9 years) and at follow-up was 32.5 years (SD=5.7 years, range=22.3-46.4 years). Outcome measures included standardized assessments of diagnostic status, cognitive ability, and adaptive behavior. Additional information collected concerned demographic variables, indicators of independence, social relationships, medical and psychiatric conditions, and social service use. Outcomes for this sample were better than outcomes described in previous work on individuals with similar cognitive functioning. For example, half of the participants were rated as "Very Good" or "Good" on a global outcome measure. As in previous studies, there was considerable variability in measured cognitive ability over time. Over half of the sample had large gains or losses of cognitive ability of greater than 1 standard deviation. Cognitive gain was associated with better outcome, as was better adaptive functioning. While all participants had baseline IQs in the nonimpaired range, there was limited evidence to support the use of other early childhood variables to predict adult outcome.
 
Article
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and specific language impairment (SLI) are developmental disorders exhibiting language deficits, but it is unclear whether they arise from similar etiologies. Language impairments have been described in family members of children with ASD and SLI, but few studies have quantified them. In this study, we examined IQ, language, and reading abilities of ASD and SLI children and their first-degree relatives to address whether the language difficulties observed in some children with ASD are familial and to better understand the degree of overlap between these disorders and their broader phenotypes. Participants were 52 autistic children, 36 children with SLI, their siblings, and their parents. The ASD group was divided into those with (ALI, n=32) and without (ALN, n=20) language impairment. Relationships between ASD severity and language performance were also examined in the ASD probands. ALI and SLI probands performed similarly on most measures while ALN probands scored higher. ALN and ALI probands' language scores were not related to Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule algorithm scores. SLI relatives scored lowest on all measures, and while scores were not in the impaired range, relatives of ALI children scored lower than relatives of ALN children on some measures, though not those showing highest heritability in SLI. Given that ALI relatives performed better than SLI relatives across the language measures, the hypothesis that ALI and SLI families share similar genetic loading for language is not strongly supported.
 
Article
Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show difficulties identifying familiar faces, recognizing emotional expressions and judging eye-gaze direction. Recent research suggests that relatives of individuals with AS also show impairments in some aspects of face processing but no study has comprehensively assessed the nature and extent of face-processing difficulties in a group of relatives. This study compared the performance of 22 parents/adult siblings of individuals with ASD ("relatives" group), 26 adults with ASD, and 26 typically developing adults on tasks of face discrimination, facial expression recognition and judging eye-gaze direction. Relatives of individuals with ASD were less able to discriminate subtle differences between faces than typically developing adults, but were more sensitive to such differences than adults with ASD. Furthermore, relatives were significantly worse at identifying expressions of fear and disgust than typically developing adults and failed to show the typical sensitivity to direct compared with averted eye-gaze direction--a strikingly similar pattern to that observed in adults with ASD. These findings show that atypical patterns of face processing are found in some relatives of individuals with ASD and suggest that these difficulties may represent a cognitive endophenotype.
 
Article
While temporal and perceptual processing abnormalities, identified in a number of electrophysiological and brain imaging studies of individuals with (ASD), are likely to impact on speech perception, surprisingly little is known about the behavioral outcomes of such abnormalities. It has been hypothesized that rapid temporal processing deficits may be linked to impaired language development through interference with acoustic information during speech perception. The present study aimed to investigate the impact of temporal changes on encoding and recall of speech, and the associated cognitive, clinical, and behavioral correlates in adults with ASD. Research carried out with typically developing (TD) adults has shown that word recall diminishes as the speed of speech increases, and it was predicted that the magnitude of this effect would be far greater in those with ASD because of a preexisting rapid temporal processing deficit. Nineteen high-functioning adults with ASD, and age- and intelligence-matched TD controls performed verbatim recall of temporally manipulated sentences. Reduced levels of word recall in response to increases in presentation speed were observed, and this effect was greater in the older participants in the ASD group than in the control group. This is the first study to show that both sensory abnormalities and aging impact on speech encoding in ASD. Auditory processing deficits in ASD may be indicative of an association with the sensory abnormalities and social and communication impairments characterizing the disorder. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been used quite extensively for examining morphological changes in human and animal brains. One of the many advantages to examining mouse models of human autism is that we are able to examine single gene targets, like that of Neuroligin3 R451C knockin (NL3 KI), which has been directly implicated in human autism. The NL3 KI mouse model has marked volume differences in many different structures in the brain: gray matter structures, such as the hippocampus, the striatum, and the thalamus, were all found to be smaller in the NL3 KI. Further, many white matter structures were found to be significantly smaller, such as the cerebral peduncle, corpus callosum, fornix/fimbria, and internal capsule. Fractional anisotropy measurements in these structures were also measured, and no differences were found. The volume changes in the white matter regions, therefore, are not due to a general breakdown in the microstructure of the tissue and seem to be caused by fewer axons or less mature axons. A larger radial diffusivity was also found in localized regions of the corpus callosum and cerebellum. The corpus callosal changes are particularly interesting as the thinning (or reduced volume) of the corpus callosum is a consistent finding in autism. This suggests that the NL3 KI model may be useful for examining white matter changes associated with autism.
 
Article
A pervasive integration deficit could provide a powerful and elegant account of cognitive processing in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, in the case of visual Gestalt grouping, typically assessed by tasks that require participants explicitly to introspect on their own grouping perception, clear evidence for such a deficit remains elusive. To resolve this issue, we adopt an index of Gestalt grouping from the object-based attention literature that does not require participants to assess their own grouping perception. Children with ASD and mental- and chronological-age matched typically developing children (TD) performed speeded orientation discriminations of two diagonal lines. The lines were superimposed on circles that were either grouped together or segmented on the basis of color, proximity or these two dimensions in competition. The magnitude of performance benefits evident for grouped circles, relative to ungrouped circles, provided an index of grouping under various conditions. Children with ASD showed comparable grouping by proximity to the TD group, but reduced grouping by similarity. ASD seems characterized by a selective bias away from grouping by similarity combined with typical levels of grouping by proximity, rather than by a pervasive integration deficit.
 
Article
Elevated whole blood serotonin 5-HT, or hyperserotonemia, is a common biomarker in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The integrin β3 receptor subunit gene (ITGB3) is a quantitative trait locus for whole blood 5-HT levels. Recent work shows that integrin β3 interacts with the serotonin transporter (SERT) in both platelets and in the midbrain. Furthermore, multiple studies have now reported gene-gene interaction between the integrin β3 and SERT genes in association with ASD. Given the lack of previous data on the impact of integrin β3 on brain or behavioral phenotypes, we sought to compare mice with decreased or absent expression of the integrin β3 receptor subunit (Itgb3 +/- and -/-) with wildtype littermate controls in behavioral tasks relevant to ASD. These mice did not show deficits in activity level in the open field or anxiety-like behavior on the elevated plus maze, two potential confounds in the evaluation of mouse social behavior. In the three-chamber social test, mice lacking integrin β3 were shown to have normal sociability but did not show a preference for social novelty. Importantly, the absence of integrin β3 did not impair olfaction or the ability to recall familiar social odors. Additionally, mice lacking integrin β3 showed increased grooming behavior in novel environments. These preliminary studies reveal altered social and repetitive behavior in these mice, which suggests that the integrin β3 subunit may be involved in brain systems relevant to ASD. Further work is needed to fully characterize these behavioral changes and the underlying brain mechanisms.
 
Example familiarization stimuli.
Example test stimuli.
Article
Prototype formation is a critical skill for category learning. Research suggests that individuals with autism may have a deficit in prototype formation of some objects; however, results are mixed. This study used a natural category, faces, to further examine prototype formation in high-functioning individuals with autism. High-functioning children (age 8-13 years) and adults with autism (age 17-53 years) and matched controls were tested in a facial prototype formation task that has been used to test prototype formation abilities in typically developing infants and adults [Strauss, 1979]. Participants were familiarized to a series of faces depicting subtle variations in the spatial distance of facial features, and were then given a forced choice familiarity test between the mean prototype and the mode prototype. Overall, individuals in the autism group were significantly less likely to select the mean prototype face. Even though the children with autism showed this difference in prototype formation, this pattern was driven primarily by the adults, because the adults with autism were approximately four times less likely to select the mean prototype than were the control adults. These results provide further evidence that individuals with autism have difficulty abstracting subtle spatial information that is necessary not only for the formation of a mean prototype, but also for categorizing faces and objects.
 
Percent looking to the matching (causative) scene during the first half, second half, and entire test and baseline trials for the syntactic bootstrapping video for both groups of children.
Timecourse of looking to the matching and nonmatching scenes for the syntactic bootstrapping video for the children with ASD.
Article
Grammar is frequently considered to be a strength in the cognitive profile of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); however, few studies have investigated how abstract (i.e. distinct from specific lexical items) is the grammatical knowledge of individuals with ASD. In this study, we examine the extent to which children with ASD have abstracted the transitive (SVO) frame in English. Participants in a longitudinal study of language acquisition in children with autism (17 children with ASD averaging 41 months of age, 18 TD children averaging 28 months of age) were taught two novel verbs in transitive sentences and asked (via intermodal preferential looking) whether these verbs mapped onto novel causative vs. noncausative actions. Both groups consistently mapped the verbs onto the causative actions (i.e. they engaged in syntactic bootstrapping). Moreover, the children with ASD's performance on this task was significantly and independently predicted by both vocabulary and sentence-processing measures obtained 8 months earlier. We conclude that many children with ASD are able to generalize grammatical patterns, and this ability may derive from earlier lexical and grammatical knowledge.
 
Article
Empathic accuracy refers to the ability of perceivers to accurately share the emotions of protagonists. Using a novel task assessing embarrassment, the current study sought to compare levels of empathic embarrassment accuracy among individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) with those of matched controls. To assess empathic embarrassment accuracy, we compared the level of embarrassment experienced by protagonists to the embarrassment felt by participants while watching the protagonists. The results show that while the embarrassment ratings of participants and protagonists were highly matched among controls, individuals with ASD failed to exhibit this matching effect. Furthermore, individuals with ASD rated their embarrassment higher than controls when viewing themselves and protagonists on film, but not while performing the task itself. These findings suggest that individuals with ASD tend to have higher ratings of empathic embarrassment, perhaps due to difficulties in emotion regulation that may account for their impaired empathic accuracy and aberrant social behavior. Autism Res 2015. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is considered among the most heritable of all neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, but identification of etiologically significant genetic markers and risk variants has been hampered by a lack of sufficiently large samples. Rapid phenotyping procedures, where self-report measures are used instead of extensive clinical assessment, have been proposed as methods for amassing large genetic databases due to their hypothesized time-efficiency and affordability. We assessed the diagnostic accuracy of potential rapid phenotyping procedures using the Social Communication Questionnaire and the Social Responsiveness Scale in a sample of 333 children who also received extensive phenotypic assessments. While the rapid phenotyping measures were able to accurately identify a large number of children with ASD, they also frequently failed to differentiate children with ASD from children with other complex neurobehavioral profiles. These data support the continued need of expert clinical validation in combination with rapid phenotyping procedures in order to accurately amass large-scale genetic collections of children with ASD.
 
Article
This study examined differences in acoustic characteristics of infant cries in a sample of babies at risk for autism and a low-risk comparison group. Cry samples derived from vocal recordings of 6-month-old infants at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 21) and low-risk infants (n = 18) were subjected to acoustic analyses using analysis software designed for this purpose. Cries were categorized as either pain-related or non-pain-related based on videotape coding. At-risk infants produced pain-related cries with higher and more variable fundamental frequency (F (0) ) than low-risk infants. At-risk infants later classified with ASD at 36 months had among the highest F (0) values for both types of cries and produced cries that were more poorly phonated than those of nonautistic infants, reflecting cries that were less likely to be produced in a voiced mode. These results provide preliminary evidence that disruptions in cry acoustics may be part of an atypical vocal signature of autism in early life. Autism Res 2012, ••: ••-••. © 2012 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of autism populations is confounded by the inherent heterogeneity in the individuals' genetics and environment, two factors difficult to control for. Imaging genetic animal models that recapitulate a mutation associated with autism quantify the impact of genetics on brain morphology and mitigate the confounding factors in human studies. Here, we used MRI to image three genetic mouse models with single mutations implicated in autism: Neuroligin-3 R451C knock-in, Methyl-CpG binding protein-2 (MECP2) 308-truncation and integrin β3 homozygous knockout. This study identified the morphological differences specific to the cerebellum, a structure repeatedly linked to autism in human neuroimaging and postmortem studies. To accomplish a comparative analysis, a segmented cerebellum template was created and used to segment each study image. This template delineated 39 different cerebellar structures. For Neuroligin-3 R451C male mutants, the gray (effect size (ES) = 1.94, FDR q = 0.03) and white (ES = 1.84, q = 0.037) matter of crus II lobule and the gray matter of the paraflocculus (ES = 1.45, q = 0.045) were larger in volume. The MECP2 mutant mice had cerebellar volume changes that increased in scope depending on the genotype: hemizygous males to homozygous females. The integrin β3 mutant mouse had a drastically smaller cerebellum than controls with 28 out of 39 cerebellar structures smaller. These imaging results are discussed in relation to repetitive behaviors, sociability, and learning in the context of autism. This work further illuminates the cerebellum's role in autism. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
About 80% of cases with autism express intellectual disability. Both in autism and in mental retardation without autism the majority of the cases are males, suggesting a X-chromosomal effect. In fact, some molecular evidence has been obtained for a common genetic background for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and X-linked mental retardation (XLMR). In several genome-wide scans (GWS), evidence for linkage at X-chromosome has been reported including the GWS of Finnish ASD families with the highest multipoint lod score (MLS) of 2.75 obtained close to DXS7132 at Xq11.1. To further dissect the relationship between autism and genes implicated in XLMR, we have fine-mapped Xq11.1-q21.33 and analyzed five candidate genes in the region. We refined the region using 26 microsatellite markers and linkage analysis in 99 Finnish families with ASD. The most significant evidence for linkage was observed at DXS1225 on Xq21.1 with a nonparametric multipoint NPL(all) value of 3.43 (P = 0.0004). We sequenced the coding regions and splice sites of RPS6KA6 and ZNF711 residing at the peak region in 42 male patients from families contributing to the linkage. We also analyzed ACSL4 and DLG3, which have previously been known to cause XLMR and IL1RAPL2, a homologous gene for IL1RAPL1 that is mutated in autism and XLMR. A total of six novel and 11 known single nucleotide polymorphisms were identified. Further studies are warranted to analyze the candidate genes at Xq11.1-q21.33.
 
Article
It has been suggested that autism-specific imitative deficits may be reduced or even spared in object-related activities. However, most previous research has not sufficiently distinguished object movement reenactment (learning about the ways in which object move) from imitation (learning about the topography of demonstrated actions). Twenty children with autism (CWA) and 20 typically developing children (TDC) were presented with puzzle boxes containing prizes. Test objects and experimental conditions were designed to isolate object- and action-related aspects of demonstrations. There were four types of video demonstrations: (a) a full demonstration by an adult; (b) a ghost demonstration with object movements alone; (c) mimed solutions demonstrated adjacent to the objects; and (d) random actions performed on the surface of the objects. There were no significant between-group differences in the degree to which CWA and TDC matched the full demonstrations, the actual demonstrations or in their times to first solution in any of the conditions. Although there was no clear imitative deficit in the CWA, regression analyses were conducted to explore in more detail whether diagnosis, verbal intelligence quotient (VIQ), nonverbal IQ NVIQ, age or motor coordination predicted performance. The results are discussed in relation to the use of extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards and the interplay between motor coordination and the relative rigidity vs. pliability of objects. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Although widespread alterations in cortical structure have been documented in individuals with autism, the functional implications of these alterations remain to be determined. Here, we adopted a novel inter-subject correlation (inter-SC) and intra-subject correlation (intra-SC) technique to quantify the reliability of the spatio-temporal responses of functional MR activity in adults with autism during free-viewing of a popular audio-visual movie. Whereas these complex stimuli evoke highly reliable shared response time courses in typical individuals, cortical activity was more variable across individuals with autism (low inter-SC). Interestingly, when we measured the responses within an autistic individual across repeated presentations of the movie, we observed a unique, idiosyncratic response time course that was reliably replicated within each individual (high intra-SC). Encouragingly, after filtering out the idiosyncratic responses from each individual time course, we were able to uncover a more typical response profile, which resembles the shared responses seen in the typical subjects. These findings indicate that, under conditions approximating real-life situations, the neural activity of individuals with autism is characterized by individualistic responses that, although reliable within an autistic individual, are both highly variable across autistic individuals and different from the responses observed within the typical subjects. These idiosyncratic responses may underlie the atypical behaviors observed in autism. At the same time, we are encouraged by the presence of the more typical activation pattern lurking beneath these idiosyncratic fluctuations. Taken together, these findings may pave the way to future research aimed at characterizing the idiosyncratic response profiles, which, in turn, might contribute to a better understanding of the heterogeneity of the autism spectrum and its diagnosis.
 
Article
Structural alterations in brain morphology have been inconsistently reported in children compared to adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We assessed these differences by performing meta-analysis on the data from 19 voxel-based morphometry studies. Common findings across the age groups were grey matter reduction in left putamen and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and grey matter increases in the lateral PFC, while white matter decreases were seen mainly in the children in frontostriatal pathways. In the ASD sample, children/adolescents were more likely than adults to have increased grey matter in bilateral fusiform gyrus, right cingulate and insula. Results show that clear maturational differences exist in social cognition and limbic processing regions only in children/adolescents and not in adults with ASD, and may underlie the emotional regulation that improves with age in this population.
 
Article
Autism is associated with widespread atypicalities in perception, cognition and social behavior. A crucial question concerns how these atypicalities are reflected in the underlying brain activation. One way to examine possible perturbations of cortical organization in autism is to analyze the activation of category-selective ventral visual cortex, already clearly delineated in typical populations. We mapped out the neural correlates of face, place and common object processing, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in a group of high-functioning adults with autism and a typical comparison group, under both controlled and more naturalistic, viewing conditions. There were no consistent group differences in place-related regions. Although there were no significant differences in the extent of the object-related regions, there was more variability for these regions in the autism group. The most marked group differences were in face-selective cortex, with individuals with autism evincing reduced activation, not only in fusiform face area but also in superior temporal sulcus and occipital face area. Ventral visual cortex appears to be organized differently in high-functioning adults with autism, at least for face-selective regions, although subtle differences may also exist for other categories. We propose that cascading developmental effects of low-level differences in neuronal connectivity result in a much more pronounced effect on later developing cortical systems, such as that for face-processing, than earlier maturing systems (those for objects and places).
 
Article
Although autism presents a unique perceptual phenotype defined in part by atypical (often enhanced) analysis of spatial information, few biologically plausible hypotheses have been advanced to explain its neural underpinnings. One plausible explanation is functional but altered lateral connectivity mediating early or local mechanisms selectively responsive to different stimulus attributes, including spatial frequency and contrast. The goal of the present study was first to assess far visual acuity in autism using Landolt-C optotypes defined by different local stimulus attributes. Second, we investigated whether acuity is differentially affected in autism when target optotypes are simultaneously presented with flanking stimuli at different distances. This typical detrimental "crowding effect" of flanking stimuli on target optotype discrimination is attributed to lateral inhibitory interaction of neurons encoding for visual properties of distracters close to the target. Results failed to demonstrate a between-group difference in acuity to Landolt-C optotypes, whether defined by luminance- or texture-contrast. However, the expected crowding effect at one gap-size opening distance was evidenced for the control group only; a small effect was observed for the autism group at two gap-size opening. These results suggest that although far visual acuity is unremarkable in autism, altered local lateral connectivity within early perceptual areas underlying spatial information processing in autism is atypical. Altered local lateral connectivity in autism might originate from an imbalance in excitatory/inhibitory neural signaling, resulting in changes regarding elementary feature extraction and subsequent downstream visual integration and visuo-spatial analysis. This notion is discussed within the context of characteristic lower- and higher-level perceptual processing in autism.
 
Article
This study compared the object descriptions of school-age children with high-functioning autism (HFA) with those of a matched group of typically developing children. Descriptions were elicited in a referential communication task where shared information was manipulated, and in a guessing game where clues had to be provided about the identity of an object that was hidden from the addressee. Across these tasks, increasingly complex levels of audience design were assessed: (1) the ability to give adequate descriptions from one's own perspective, (2) the ability to adjust descriptions to an addressee's perspective when this differs from one's own, and (3) the ability to provide indirect yet identifying descriptions in a situation where explicit labeling is inappropriate. Results showed that there were group differences in all three cases, with the HFA group giving less efficient descriptions with respect to the relevant context than the comparison group. More revealing was the identification of distinct adaptation profiles among the HFA participants: those who had difficulty with all three levels, those who displayed Level 1 audience design but poor Level 2 and Level 3 design, and those demonstrated all three levels of audience design, like the majority of the comparison group. Higher structural language ability, rather than symptom severity or social skills, differentiated those HFA participants with typical adaptation profiles from those who displayed deficient audience design, consistent with previous reports of language use in autism.
 
A) Two morph continua were produced: an emotion continuum blending disgust and anger expressed by an average identity, and an identity continuum blending “Harold” and “Felix” identities expressing an average facial emotion. Participants completed four blocks of attribution trials: judging identity having adapted to Harold expressing disgust; judging identity having adapted to Felix expressing anger; judging emotion having adapted to Harold expressing disgust; and judging identity having adapted to Felix expressing anger. (B) The disgust-anger emotion continuum (top row); the Harold–Felix identity continuum (bottom row).
A) In Experiment 1, adapting and test images were presented at different scales and locations, thereby minimizing the contribution of retinotopic adaptation. In Experiment 2, adapting and test stimuli were shown at identical scales and locations to maximize both retinotopic and face-specific adaptation. (B) The magnitude of participants' identity and expression aftereffects was inferred from the difference between the points of subjective equality estimated for the two identity and two expression functions. (C) In both experiments, the ASD group demonstrated robust adaptation, for facial identity and expression, indistinguishable from that seen in neurotypical controls. * indicates significance at P < .025; ** indicates significance at P < .001. ASD, autism spectrum disorder.
Article
Adaptation paradigms seek to bias subsequently viewed stimuli through prolonged exposure to an adapting stimulus, thereby giving rise to an aftereffect. Recent experiments have found that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show reduced facial aftereffects, prompting some researchers to speculate that all individuals with ASD exhibit deficient facial adaptation. However, caution is required when generalizing findings from samples of children with ASD to the wider ASD population. The reduced facial aftereffects seen in child samples may instead reflect delayed or atypical developmental trajectories, whereby individuals with ASD are slower to develop adaptive mechanisms. In the present study, two experiments were conducted to determine whether high-functioning adults with ASD also show diminished aftereffects for facial identity and expression. In Experiment 1, using a procedure that minimized the contribution of low-level retinotopic adaptation, we observed substantial aftereffects comparable to those seen in matched controls, for both facial identity and expression. A similar pattern of results was seen in Experiment 2 using a revised procedure that increased the contribution of retinotopic adaptation to the facial aftereffects observed. That adults with autism can show robust facial aftereffects raises the possibility that group differences are seen only at particular points during development, and may not be a lifelong feature of the condition. Autism Res 2014, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2014 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Significant Differences in CRS-R Scores Between Groups 
Significant Differences in SNAP-IV, SCQ, VABS Scores Between Groups 
Article
Recent studies support several overlapping traits between autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), assuming the existence of a combined phenotype. The aim of our study was to evaluate the common or distinctive clinical features between ASD and ADHD in order to identify possible different phenotypes that could have a clinical value. We enrolled 181 subjects divided into four diagnostic groups: ADHD group, ASD group, ASD+ADHD group (that met diagnostic criteria for both ASD and ADHD), and control group. Intelligent quotient (IQ), emotional and behavior problems, ADHD symptoms, ASD symptoms, and adaptive behaviors were investigated through the following test: Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence or Leiter International Performances Scale Revised, Child Behavior Checklist, Conners' Rating Scales-Revised, SNAP-IV Rating Scale, the Social Communication Questionnaire, Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales. The ASD+ADHD group differs from ADHD or ASD in some domains such as lower IQ mean level and a higher autistic symptoms severity. However, the ASD+ADHD group shares inattention and hyperactivity deficit and some emotional and behavior problems with the ADHD group, while it shares adaptive behavior impairment with ASD group. These findings provide a new understanding of clinical manifestation of ASD+ADHD phenotype, they may also inform a novel treatment target. Autism Res 2015. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 The Authors Autism Research published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of International Society for Autism Research.
 
Article
The brain builds an association between action and sensory feedback to predict the sensory consequence of self-generated motor commands. This internal model of action is central to our ability to adapt movements and may also play a role in our ability to learn from observing others. Recently, we reported that the spatial generalization patterns that accompany adaptation of reaching movements were distinct in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as compared with typically developing (TD) children. To test whether the generalization patterns are specific to ASD, here, we compared the patterns of adaptation with those in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Consistent with our previous observations, we found that in ASD, the motor memory showed greater than normal generalization in proprioceptive coordinates compared with both TD children and children with ADHD; children with ASD also showed slower rates of adaptation compared with both control groups. Children with ADHD did not show this excessive generalization to the proprioceptive target, but they did show excessive variability in the speed of movements with an increase in the exponential distribution of responses (τ) as compared with both TD children and children with ASD. The results suggest that slower rate of adaptation and anomalous bias towards proprioceptive feedback during motor learning are characteristics of autism, whereas increased variability in execution is a characteristic of ADHD.
 
Article
Heightened auditory sensitivity and atypical auditory processing are common in autism. Functional studies suggest abnormal neural response and hemispheric activation to auditory stimuli, yet the neurodevelopment underlying atypical auditory function in autism is unknown. In this study, we model longitudinal volumetric growth of Heschl's gyrus gray matter and white matter during childhood and adolescence in 40 individuals with autism and 17 typically developing participants. Up to three time points of magnetic resonance imaging data, collected on average every 2.5 years, were examined from individuals 3-12 years of age at the time of their first scan. Consistent with previous cross-sectional studies, no group differences were found in Heschl's gyrus gray matter volume or asymmetry. However, reduced longitudinal gray matter volumetric growth was found in the right Heschl's gyrus in autism. Reduced longitudinal white matter growth in the left hemisphere was found in the right-handed autism participants. Atypical Heschl's gyrus white matter volumetric growth was found bilaterally in the autism individuals with a history of delayed onset of spoken language. Heightened auditory sensitivity, obtained from the Sensory Profile, was associated with reduced volumetric gray matter growth in the right hemisphere. Our longitudinal analyses revealed dynamic gray and white matter changes in Heschl's gyrus throughout childhood and adolescence in both typical development and autism. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Descriptives of the Sample 
Bivariate Correlations Between Putative Covariates, Measures of Social Cognition, and Outcome Variable ADOS T2 
Article
Limited accuracy and speed in facial recognition (FR) and in the identification of facial emotions (IFE) have been shown in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This study aimed at evaluating the predictive value of atypicalities in FR and IFE for future symptom severity in children with ASD. Therefore we performed a seven-year follow-up study in 87 children with ASD. FR and IFE were assessed in childhood (T1: age 6-12) using the Amsterdam Neuropsychological Tasks (ANT). Symptom severity was assessed using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) in childhood and again seven years later during adolescence (T2: age 12-19). Multiple regression analyses were performed to investigate whether FR and IFE in childhood predicted ASD symptom severity in adolescence, while controlling for ASD symptom severity in childhood. We found that more accurate FR significantly predicted lower adolescent ASD symptom severity scores (ΔR(2) = .09), even when controlling for childhood ASD symptom severity. IFE was not a significant predictor of ASD symptom severity in adolescence. From these results it can be concluded, that in children with ASD the accuracy of FR in childhood is a relevant predictor of ASD symptom severity in adolescence. Test results on FR in children with ASD may have prognostic value regarding later symptom severity. Autism Res 2015. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Behavioral therapies are currently the most effective interventions for treating the diagnostic symptoms of autism. We employed a mouse model of autism to evaluate components of behavioral interventions that improve sociability in mice. BTBR T+tf/J (BTBR) is an inbred mouse strain that exhibits prominent behavioral phenotypes with face validity to all three diagnostic symptom categories of autism, including robust and well-replicated deficits in social approach and reciprocal social interactions. To investigate the role of peer interactions in the development of sociability, BTBR juvenile mice were reared in the same home cage with juvenile mice of a highly social inbred strain, C57BL/6J (B6). Subject mice were tested as young adults for sociability and repetitive behaviors. B6 controls reared with B6 showed their strain-typical high sociability. BTBR controls reared with BTBR showed their strain-typical lack of sociability. In contrast, BTBR reared with B6 as juveniles showed significant sociability as young adults. A 20-day intervention was as effective as a 40-day intervention for improving social approach behavior. High levels of repetitive self-grooming in BTBR were not rescued by peer-rearing with B6, indicating specificity of the intervention to the social domain. These results from a robust mouse model of autism support the interpretation that social enrichment with juvenile peers is a beneficial intervention for improving adult outcome in the social domain. This novel paradigm may prove useful for discovering factors that are essential for effective behavioral treatments, and biological mechanisms underlying effective behavioral interventions.
 
Article
There has been intensified interest in the neuropeptides oxytocin (OT) and arginine vasopressin (AVP) in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) given their role in affiliative and social behavior in animals, positive results of treatment studies using OT, and findings that genetic polymorphisms in the AVP-OT pathway are present in individuals with ASD. Nearly all such studies in humans have focused only on males. With this preliminary study, we provide basic and novel information on the involvement of OT and AVP in autism, with an investigation of blood plasma levels of these neuropeptides in 75 preadolescent and adolescent girls and boys ages 8-18: 40 with high-functioning ASD (19 girls, 21 boys) and 35 typically developing children (16 girls, 19 boys). We related neuropeptide levels to social, language, repetitive behavior, and internalizing symptom measures in these individuals. There were significant gender effects: Girls showed higher levels of OT, while boys had significantly higher levels of AVP. There were no significant effects of diagnosis on OT or AVP. Higher OT values were associated with greater anxiety in all girls, and with better pragmatic language in all boys and girls. AVP levels were positively associated with restricted and repetitive behaviors in girls with ASD but negatively (nonsignificantly) associated with these behaviors in boys with ASD. Our results challenge the prevailing view that plasma OT levels are lower in individuals with ASD, and suggest that there are distinct and sexually dimorphic mechanisms of action for OT and AVP underlying anxiety and repetitive behaviors. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
It remains unclear why individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tend to respond in an atypical manner in social situations. Investigating autonomic and subjective responses to social vs. nonsocial stimuli may help to reveal underlying mechanisms of these atypical responses. This study examined autonomic responses (skin conductance level and heart rate) and subjective responses to social vs. nonsocial pictures in 37 adolescents with an ASD and 36 typically developing (TD) adolescents. Thirty-six pictures from the International Affective Picture System were presented, divided into six categories based on social content (social vs. nonsocial) and pleasantness (pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant). Both in adolescents with ASD as well as TD adolescents, pictures with a social content resulted in higher skin conductance responses (SCRs) for pleasant and unpleasant pictures than for neutral pictures. No differences in SCRs were found for the three nonsocial picture categories. Unpleasant pictures, both with and without a social content, showed more heart rate deceleration than neutral pictures. Self-reported arousal ratings were influenced by the social and affective content of a picture. No differences were found between individuals with ASD and TD individuals in their autonomic and subjective responses to the picture categories. These results suggest that adolescents with ASD do not show atypical autonomic or subjective responses to pictures with and without a social content. These findings make it less likely that impairments in social information processing in individuals with ASD can be explained by atypical autonomic responses to social stimuli. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
It has been suggested that atypicalities in low-level visual processing contribute to the expression and development of the unusual cognitive and behavioral profile seen in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, previous investigations have yielded mixed results. In the largest study of its kind (ASD n = 89; non-ASD = 52; mean age 15 years 6 months) and testing across the spectrum of IQ (range 52-133), we investigated performance on three measures of basic visual processing: motion coherence, form-from-motion and biological motion (BM). At the group level, we found no evidence of differences between the two groups on any of the tasks, suggesting that there is no fundamental visual motion processing deficit in individuals with an ASD, at least by adolescence. However, we identified a tail of individuals with ASD (18% of the sample) who had exceptionally poor BM processing abilities compared to the non-ASD group, and who were characterized by low IQ. For the entire sample of those both with and without ASD, performance on the BM task uniquely correlated with performance on the Frith-Happé animations, a higher-level task that demands the interpretation of moving, interacting agents in order to understand mental states. We hypothesize that this association reflects the shared social-cognitive characteristics of the two tasks, which have a common neural underpinning in the superior temporal sulcus.
 
Article
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are impaired in understanding the emotional undertones of speech, many of which are communicated through prosody. Musical performance also employs a form of prosody to communicate emotion, and the goal of this study was to examine the ability of adolescents with ASD to understand musical emotion. We designed an experiment in which each musical stimulus served as its own control while we varied the emotional expressivity by manipulating timing and amplitude variation. We asked children and adolescents with ASD and matched controls as well as individuals with Williams syndrome (WS) to rate how emotional these excerpts sounded. Results show that children and adolescents with ASD are impaired relative to matched controls and individuals with WS at judging the difference in emotionality among the expressivity levels. Implications for theories of emotion in autism are discussed in light of these findings.
 
Article
Young people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to have heightened levels of anxiety compared with their typically developing (non-ASD) peers. The reasons for this are poorly understood, and there has been little research investigating the cognitive correlates of anxiety in individuals with ASD. Typically developing youth with anxiety disorders have frequently been found to show an attentional bias toward threatening information. In this study, we examined whether such a bias was also found in young people with ASD and anxiety symptoms. The protocol utilized two versions of the dot-probe paradigm, the first with emotional faces and the second with emotional words. Participants comprised 38 boys with an ASD and 41 typically developing controls aged 10-16 years of age. Those with an ASD displayed higher levels of parent- and child-rated anxiety (both P < 0.001) and depression (P < 0.001) compared with controls. However, there were no significant group differences in attentional bias scores and no significant relationship between anxiety and attentional bias in either the face or word tasks, for either group. Our findings suggest that, for young people with ASD, unlike non-ASD individuals with an anxiety disorder, high levels of anxiety may not be associated with attentional bias to threat. This may indicate that anxiety in ASD has different cognitive correlates from anxiety in the typically developing population. Further conclusions, study limitations, and future directions are discussed. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Article
Individuals with autism have an atypical pattern of visual processing. Various studies have provided evidence that individuals with autism perceive the details of stimuli before the gestalt, the reverse of the typical pattern of visual processing. This study used the Rey Osterreith Complex Figure (ROCF) task and an objective scoring system to examine local/global processing approaches to its reproduction in 37 individuals diagnosed with high-functioning autism (HFA) compared to 49 age-, IQ-, and gender-matched typically developing controls (TD). The sample was divided into children (aged 8-14 years) and adolescents/adults (aged 15-47 years) to assess age effects. Results showed no difference in overall performance on the ROCF between HFA and TD children. TD participants displayed improved organizational and planning skills with age and a shift to global processing approaches, but there were no differences in performance between children and adolescents/adults with HFA. There was no evidence of enhanced local processing in either HFA group. These findings suggest that HFA individuals with average IQ scores do not have the clinically demonstrable evidence of the enhanced local processing thought to reflect increased local brain connectivity in more severely autistic individuals. The deficient global processing of the HFA adults reflects dependence of performance on impaired strategic problem-solving abilities, which has been demonstrated to result from under development of neural connectivity between visuo-spatial and frontal brain regions in HFA adults.
 
Article
While high levels of anxiety and depression are now recognized as major co-occurring problems in children and young people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research examining possible associations with individual differences in neurocognitive functioning has been limited. This study included 90 adolescents with an ASD aged 14-16 years with a full-scale IQ > 50. Using structural equation modeling, we examined the independent relationships between multiple measures of executive functioning and social cognition on severity of anxiety or depressive symptoms. Results indicated a significant association between poorer executive functioning and higher levels of anxiety, but not depression. In contrast, social cognition ability was not associated with either anxiety or depression. This study is the first to report significant associations between executive functions and anxiety in ASD. This may suggest that poor executive functioning is one factor associated with the high prevalence of anxiety disorder in children and adolescents with ASD. Autism Res 2014, 7: 216-228. © 2014 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Top-cited authors
Eric Fombonne
  • Oregon Health and Science University
Gauri Divan
Mayada Elsabbagh
  • McGill University
Shuaib Kauchali
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal
Cristiane S Paula
  • Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie