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Int J Psychophysiol. 2008 Apr;68(1):35-40. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.01.002. Epub 2008 Jan 17.

Impaired cortical activation in autistic children: is the mirror neuron system involved?

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Inserm U930, Université François Rabelais, CHRU, 37000 Tours, France.


The inability to imitate becomes obvious early in autistic children and seems to contribute to learning delay and to disorders of communication and contact. Posture, motility and imitation disorders in autistic syndrome might be the consequence of an abnormality of sensori-motor integration, related to the visual perception of movement, and could reflect impairment of the mirror neuron system (MNS). We compared EEG activity during the observation of videos showing actions or still scenes in 14 right-handed autistic children and 14 right-handed, age- and gender-matched control children (3 girls and 11 boys, aged 5 years 3 months-7 years 11 months). We showed desynchronisation of the EEG in the motor cerebral cortex and the frontal and temporal areas during observation of human actions in the group of healthy children. No such desynchronisation was found in autistic children. Moreover, inversion of the pattern of hemispheric activation was found in autistic children, with increased cortical activity in the right hemisphere in the posterior region, including the centro-parietal and temporo-occipital sites. These results are in agreement with the hypothesis of impairment of the mirror neuron system in autistic disorder.

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