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Neurosci Lett. 2009 Dec 25;467(2):173-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.10.033. Epub 2009 Oct 13.

Reduced cortico-motor facilitation in a normal sample with high traits of autism.

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Department of Psychology, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom.


Recent research in social neuroscience proposes a link between mirror neuron system (MNS) and social cognition. The MNS has been proposed to be the neural mechanism underlying action recognition and intention understanding and more broadly social cognition. Pre-motor MNS has been suggested to modulate the motor cortex during action observation. This modulation results in an enhanced cortico-motor excitability reflected in increased motor evoked potentials (MEPs) at the muscle of interest during action observation. Anomalous MNS activity has been reported in the autistic population whose social skills are notably impaired. It is still an open question whether traits of autism in the normal population are linked to the MNS functioning. We measured TMS-induced MEPs in normal individuals with high and low traits of autism as measured by the autistic quotient (AQ), while observing videos of hand or mouth actions, static images of a hand or mouth or a blank screen. No differences were observed between the two while they observed a blank screen. However participants with low traits of autism showed significantly greater MEP amplitudes during observation of hand/mouth actions relative to static hand/mouth stimuli. In contrast, participants with high traits of autism did not show such a MEP amplitude difference between observation of actions and static stimuli. These results are discussed with reference to MNS functioning.

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