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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2006;30(1):97-117. Epub 2005 Sep 12.

The orbitofrontal-amygdala circuit and self-regulation of social-emotional behavior in autism.

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Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.


Individuals with an autistic spectrum disorder are impaired not only in understanding others' mental states, but also in self-regulation of social-emotional behavior. Therefore, a model of the brain in autism must encompass not only those brain systems that subserve social-cognitive and emotional functioning, but also those that subserve the self-regulation of behavior in response to a changing social environment. We present evidence to support the hypothesis that developmental dysfunction of the orbitofrontal-amygdala circuit of the brain is a critical factor in the development of autism and that some of the characteristic deficits of persons with autism in socio-emotional cognition and behavioral self-regulation are related to early dysfunction of different components of this circuit. A secondary hypothesis posits that the degree of intellectual impairment present in individuals with autism is directly related to the integrity of the dorsolateral prefrontal-hippocampal circuit of the brain. Together, these hypotheses have the potential to help explain the neurodevelopmental basis of some of the primary manifestations of autism as well as the heterogeneity of outcomes.

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