A functional and structural study of emotion and face processing in children with autism

Blythe A. Corbett, Vanessa Carmean, Susan Ravizza, Carter Wendelken, Melissa L. Henry, Cameron S Carter, Susan M. Rivera

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Abstract

Children with autism exhibit impairment in the processing of socioemotional information. The amygdala, a core structure centrally involved in socioemotional functioning, has been implicated in the neuropathology of autism. We collected structural and functional magnetic resonance images (MRI) in children 8 to 12 years of age with high-functioning autism (n = 12) and typical development (n = 15). The functional MRI experiment involved matching facial expressions and people. Volumetric analysis of the amygdala was also performed. The results showed that children with autism exhibited intact emotion matching, while showing diminished activation of the fusiform gyrus (FG) and the amygdala. Conversely, the autism group showed deficits in person matching amidst some FG and variable amygdala activation. No significant between-group differences in the volume of the left or right amygdala were found. There were associations between age, social anxiety and amygdala volume in the children with autism such that smaller volumes were generally associated with more anxiety and younger age. In summary, the data are consistent with abnormalities in circuits involved in emotion and face processing reported in studies of older subjects with autism showing reductions in amygdala activation related to emotion processing and reduced fusiform activation involved in face processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-205
Number of pages10
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Volume173
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 30 2009

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Keywords

  • Amygdala
  • Anxiety
  • Coupling
  • fMRI
  • Fusiform gyrus
  • Socioemotional
  • Volume

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)

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