The development of the neural substrates of cognitive control in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders

Marjorie Solomon Friedman, Jong H. Yoon, John D Ragland, Tara A Niendam, Tyler A. Lesh, Wonja Fairbrother, Cameron S Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Background Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) involve impairments in cognitive control. In typical development (TYP), neural systems underlying cognitive control undergo substantial maturation during adolescence. Development is delayed in adolescents with ASD. Little is known about the neural substrates of this delay. Methods We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging and a cognitive control task involving overcoming a prepotent response tendency to examine the development of cognitive control in young (ages 12-15; n = 13 with ASD and n = 13 with TYP) and older (ages 16-18; n = 14 with ASD and n = 14 with TYP) adolescents with whole-brain voxelwise univariate and task-related functional connectivity analyses. Results Older ASD and TYP showed reduced activation in sensory and premotor areas relative to younger ones. The older ASD group showed reduced left parietal activation relative to TYP. Functional connectivity analyses showed a significant age by group interaction with the older ASD group exhibiting increased functional connectivity strength between the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, bilaterally. This functional connectivity strength was related to task performance in ASD, whereas that between dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex (Brodmann areas 9 and 40) was related to task performance in TYP. Conclusions Adolescents with ASD rely more on reactive cognitive control, involving last-minute conflict detection and control implementation by the anterior cingulate cortex and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, versus proactive cognitive control requiring processing by dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex. Findings await replication in larger longitudinal studies that examine their functional consequences and amenability to intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-421
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014


  • Adolescence
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • cognitive control
  • development
  • fMRI
  • response inhibition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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