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Brain Res. 2010 Mar 12;1320:168-75. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2010.01.035. Epub 2010 Jan 21.

Atypical activation of the mirror neuron system during perception of hand motion in autism.

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UMR_S Inserm U 930, CNRS ERL 3106, Université François Rabelais de Tours, IFR 135, CHU Tours, 37000 Tours, France.


Disorders in the autism spectrum are characterized by deficits in social and communication skills such as imitation, pragmatic language, theory of mind, and empathy. The discovery of the "mirror neuron system" (MNS) in macaque monkeys may provide a basis from which to explain some of the behavioral dysfunctions seen in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).We studied seven right-handed high-functioning male autistic and eight normal subjects (TD group) using functional magnetic resonance imaging during observation and execution of hand movements compared to a control condition (rest). The between group comparison of the contrast [observation versus rest] provided evidence of a bilateral greater activation of inferior frontal gyrus during observation of human motion than during rest for the ASD group than for the TD group. This hyperactivation of the pars opercularis (belonging to the MNS) during observation of human motion in autistic subjects provides strong support for the hypothesis of atypical activity of the MNS that may be at the core of the social deficits in autism.

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