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Mol Autism. 2017 Feb 22;8:7. doi: 10.1186/s13229-017-0123-2. eCollection 2017.

Disconnection from others in autism is more than just a feeling: whole-brain neural synchrony in adults during implicit processing of emotional faces.

Mennella R1,2, Leung RC1,3, Taylor MJ1,4,5,3, Dunkley BT1,4,5.

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Department of Diagnostic Imaging, Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8 Canada.
Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Via Venezia 8, 35131 Padova, Italy.
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street, 4th Floor, Sidney Smith Hall, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G3 Canada.
Neurosciences & Mental Health, Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8 Canada.
Department of Medical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, 263 McCaul Street - 4th Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1W7 Canada.



Socio-emotional difficulties in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are thought to reflect impaired functional connectivity within the "social brain". Nonetheless, a whole-brain characterization of the fast responses in functional connectivity during implicit processing of emotional faces in adults with ASD is lacking.


The present study used magnetoencephalography to investigate early responses in functional connectivity, as measured by interregional phase synchronization, during implicit processing of angry, neutral and happy faces. The sample (n = 44) consisted of 22 young adults with ASD and 22 age- and sex-matched typically developed (TD) controls.


Reduced phase-synchrony in the beta band around 300 ms emerged during processing of angry faces in the ASD compared to TD group, involving key areas of the social brain. In the same time window, de-synchronization in the beta band in the amygdala was reduced in the ASD group across conditions.


This is the first demonstration of atypical global and local synchrony patterns in the social brain in adults with ASD during implicit processing of emotional faces. The present results replicate and substantially extend previous findings on adolescents, highlighting that atypical brain synchrony during processing of socio-emotional stimuli is a hallmark of clinical sequelae in autism.


Autism; Emotional faces; Functional connectivity; Magnetoencephalography; Social brain; Young adults

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