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Brain Res. 2019 Mar 1;1706:157-165. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2018.10.029. Epub 2018 Oct 27.

Functional connectivity in ASD: Atypical pathways in brain networks supporting action observation and joint attention.

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Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine, United States.
Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine, United States. Electronic address:


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by impaired social communication, including attending to and interpreting social cues, initiating and responding to joint attention, and engaging in abstract social cognitive reasoning. Current studies emphasize a underconnectivity in ASD, particularly for brain systems that support abstract social reasoning and introspective thought. Here, we evaluate intrinsic connectivity in children with ASD, targeting brain systems that support the developmental precursors to social reasoning, namely perception of social cues and joint attention. Using resting state fMRI made available through the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE), we compute functional connectivity within and between nodes in the action observation, attention and social cognitive networks in children and adolescents with ASD. We also compare connectivity strength to observational assessments that explicitly evaluate severity of ASD on two distinct subdomains using the ADOS-Revised schedule: social affective (SA) and restricted, repetitive behaviors (RRB). Compared to age-matched controls, children with ASD have decreased functional connectivity in a number of connections in the action observation network, particularly in the lateral occipital cortex (LOTC) and fusiform gyrus (FG). Distinct patterns of connections were also correlated with symptom severity on the two subdomains of the ADOS. ADOS-SA severity most strongly correlated with connectivity to the left TPJ, while ADOS-RRB severity correlated with connectivity to the dMPFC. We conclude that atypical connectivity in the action observation system may underlie some of the more complex deficits in social cognitive systems in ASD.


ASD; Action recognition; Attention; Functional connectivity; Resting state; Social cognition

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