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J Autism Dev Disord. 2004 Apr;34(2):139-50.

Performance on Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery subtests sensitive to frontal lobe function in people with autistic disorder: evidence from the Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism network.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.


Recent structural and functional imaging work, as well as neuropathology and neuropsychology studies, provide strong empirical support for the involvement of frontal cortex in autism. The Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) is a computer-administered set of neuropsychological tests developed to examine specific components of cognition. Previous studies document the role of frontal cortex in performance of two CANTAB subtests: the Stockings of Cambridge, a planning task, and the Intradimensional/Extradimensional Shift task, a measure of cognitive set shifting. To examine the integrity of frontal functions, these subtests were administered to 79 participants with autism and 70 typical controls recruited from seven universities who are part of the Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism network. The two groups were matched on age, sex, and full-scale IQ. Significant group differences were found in performance on both subtests, with the autism group showing deficits in planning efficiency and extradimensional shifting relative to controls. Deficits were found in both lower- and higher-IQ individuals with autism across the age range of 6 to 47 years. Impairment on the CANTAB executive function subtests did not predict autism severity or specific autism symptoms (as measured by the ADI-R and ADOS), but it was correlated with adaptive behavior. If these CANTAB subtests do indeed measure prefrontal function, as suggested by previous research with animals and lesion patients, this adds to the accumulating evidence of frontal involvement in autism and indicates that this brain region should remain an active area of investigation.

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