The Neural Circuitry Mediating Shifts in Behavioral Response and Cognitive Set in Autism

Psychology Department, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, USA.
Biological psychiatry (Impact Factor: 10.26). 06/2008; 63(10):974-80. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.06.028
Source: PubMed


Recent studies have suggested that the social and cognitive impairments in autism are associated with neural processing deficits in specific brain regions. However, these studies have primarily focused on neural systems responsible for face processing and social behaviors. Although repetitive, stereotyped behaviors are a hallmark of autism, little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying these behaviors in the disorder.
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural correlates of shifts in behavioral response and cognitive set in 18 individuals with high-functioning autism and 15 neurotypical control participants. Participants performed a target detection task specifically designed to distinguish shifts in response from shifts in cognitive set.
Individuals with autism showed lower accuracy on response shifting trials, independent of whether those trials also required a shift in cognitive set. Compared with control subjects, participants with autism showed reduced activation in frontal, striatal, and parietal regions during these trials. In addition, within the autism group, the severity of restricted, repetitive behaviors was negatively correlated with activation in anterior cingulate and posterior parietal regions.
These results suggest that executive deficits and, by extension, repetitive behaviors associated with autism might reflect a core dysfunction within the brain's executive circuitry.

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Available from: Keith M. Shafritz
    • "Since deficits in these areas are often found in ASD (i.e. Goldberg et al. 2005; Schmitz et al. 2007; Shafritz et al. 2008; Steele et al. 2007; Stoet and López 2011; Sturm et al. 2004; Verté et al.2006; Williams et al. 2005), it is important to control for these functions in order to draw conclusions about inhibitory or flexibility deficits in ASD. Second, task conditions like degree of open-endedness, task structure and administration have been found to influence task performance (Teunisse et al. 2001; van Eylen et al. 2011; White et al. 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: Cognitive control dysfunctions, like inhibitory and attentional flexibility deficits are assumed to underlie repetitive behavior in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In the present study, prepotent response inhibition and attentional flexibility were examined in 64 high-functioning individuals with ASD and 53 control participants. Performance under different task conditions were tested both in response to visual and auditory information, and requiring a motor or verbal response. Individuals with ASD showed significant more control dysfunctions than typically developing participants on the auditory computer task. Inhibitory control and attentional flexibility predicted RRB in everyday life. Specifically, response inhibition in reaction to visual information and task switching in reaction to auditory information predicted motor and sensory stereotyped behavior.
    No preview · Article · Jun 2015 · Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
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    • "The prefrontal cortex (PFC), especially the lateral PFC (LPFC), has been associated with executive control and information integration during socio-emotional processing, and is a domaingeneral area [Corbetta and Shulman, 2002; Levy and Wagner , 2011; Romanski, 2007]. Deficits in LPFC responses have been found in individuals with ASD [Kaiser et al., 2010; Shafritz et al., 2008; Silk et al., 2006], supporting the hypothesis that ASD individuals have difficulty in integrating information from different modalities [Happe and Frith, 2006]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Accumulating evidence suggests that autonomic signals and their cortical representations are closely linked to emotional processes, and that related abnormalities could lead to social deficits. Although socio-emotional impairments are a defining feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), empirical evidence directly supporting the link between autonomic, cortical, and socio-emotional abnormalities in ASD is still lacking. In this study, we examined autonomic arousal indexed by skin conductance responses (SCR), concurrent cortical responses measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging, and effective brain connectivity estimated by dynamic causal modeling in seventeen unmedicated high-functioning adults with ASD and seventeen matched controls while they performed an empathy-for-pain task. Compared to controls, adults with ASD showed enhanced SCR related to empathetic pain, along with increased neural activity in the anterior insular cortex, although their behavioral empathetic pain discriminability was reduced and overall SCR was decreased. ASD individuals also showed enhanced correlation between SCR and neural activities in the anterior insular cortex. Importantly, significant group differences in effective brain connectivity were limited to greater reduction in the negative intrinsic connectivity of the anterior insular cortex in the ASD group, indicating a failure in attenuating anterior insular responses to empathetic pain. These results suggest that aberrant interoceptive precision, as indexed by abnormalities in autonomic activity and its central representations, may underlie empathy deficits in ASD. Hum Brain Mapp, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Full-text · Article · May 2015 · Human Brain Mapping
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    • "It is conceivable that lack of inferior frontal/insular activation in the HFA group reflects a more efficient neural processing of response inhibition, as performance was equivalent with controls. However, hypoactivation of VLPFC has been previously related to EF deficits in autism (Dichter and Belger, 2007; Kana et al., 2007; Shafritz et al., 2008). The current findings are in line with these prior results , and provide additional corroborative evidence for hypoactivation during response inhibition even with equivalent performance. "
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    ABSTRACT: Autism is marked by impairments in social reciprocity and communication, along with restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Prior studies have separately investigated social processing and executive function in autism, but little is known about the brain mechanisms of cognitive control for both emotional and nonemotional stimuli. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify differences in neurocircuitry between individuals with high functioning autism (HFA) and neurotypical controls during two versions of a go/no-go task: emotional (fear and happy faces) and nonemotional (English letters). During the letter task, HFA participants showed hypoactivation in ventral prefrontal cortex. During the emotion task, happy faces elicited activation in ventral striatum, nucleus accumbens and anterior amygdala in neurotypical, but not HFA, participants. Response inhibition for fear faces compared with happy faces recruited occipitotemporal regions in HFA, but not neurotypical, participants. In a direct contrast of emotional no-go and letter no-go blocks, HFA participants showed hyperactivation in extrastriate cortex and fusiform gyrus. Accuracy for emotional no-go trials was negatively correlated with activation in fusiform gyrus in the HFA group. These results indicate that autism is associated with abnormal processing in socioemotional brain networks, and support the theory that autism is marked by a social motivational deficit. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Inc.
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