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Neuroimage. 2004 Jul;22(3):1141-50.

Activation of the fusiform gyrus when individuals with autism spectrum disorder view faces.

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1
Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA. nouchine@nmr.mgh.harvard.edu

Abstract

Prior imaging studies have failed to show activation of the fusiform gyrus in response to emotionally neutral faces in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) [Critchley et al., Brain 124 (2001) 2059; Schultz et al., Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 57 (2000) 331]. However, individuals with ASD do not typically exhibit the striking behavioral deficits that might be expected to result from fusiform gyrus damage, such as those seen in prosopagnosia, and their deficits appear to extend well beyond face identification to include a wide range of impairments in social perceptual processing. In this study, our goal was to further assess the question of whether individuals with ASD have abnormal fusiform gyrus activation to faces. We used high-field (3 T) functional magnetic resonance imaging to study face perception in 11 adult individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 10 normal controls. We used face stimuli, object stimuli, and sensory control stimuli (Fourier scrambled versions of the face and object stimuli) containing a fixation point in the center to ensure that participants were looking at and attending to the images as they were presented. We found that individuals with ASD activated the fusiform face area and other brain areas normally involved in face processing when they viewed faces as compared to non-face stimuli. These data indicate that the face-processing deficits encountered in ASD are not due to a simple dysfunction of the fusiform area, but to more complex anomalies in the distributed network of brain areas involved in social perception and cognition.

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