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Mol Autism. 2015 Oct 27;6:59. doi: 10.1186/s13229-015-0052-x. eCollection 2015.

Aberrant functioning of the theory-of-mind network in children and adolescents with autism.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, CIRC 235G, 1719 6th Ave South, Birmingham, AL 35294-0021 USA.
2
Department of Speech-Language Pathology, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA USA.
3
Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA USA.
4
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA USA.
#
Contributed equally

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Theory-of-mind (ToM), the ability to infer people's thoughts and feelings, is a pivotal skill in effective social interactions. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been found to have altered ToM skills, which significantly impacts the quality of their social interactions. Neuroimaging studies have reported altered activation of the ToM cortical network, especially in adults with autism, yet little is known about the brain responses underlying ToM in younger individuals with ASD. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated the neural mechanisms underlying ToM in high-functioning children and adolescents with ASD and matched typically developing (TD) peers.

METHODS:

fMRI data were acquired from 13 participants with ASD and 13 TD control participants while they watched animations involving two "interacting" geometrical shapes.

RESULTS:

Participants with ASD showed significantly reduced activation, relative to TD controls, in regions considered part of the ToM network, the mirror network, and the cerebellum. Functional connectivity analyses revealed underconnectivity between frontal and posterior regions during task performance in the ASD participants.

CONCLUSIONS:

Overall, the findings of this study reveal disruptions in the brain circuitry underlying ToM in ASD at multiple levels, including decreased activation and decreased functional connectivity.

KEYWORDS:

Autism; Functional connectivity MRI, mentalizing; Theory-of-mind; fMRI

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