Journal Article

Abnormal functional specialization within medial prefrontal cortex in high-functioning autism: a multi-voxel similarity analysis

Sam J. Gilbert, Julia D.I. Meuwese, Karren J. Towgood, Christopher D. Frith and Paul W. Burgess

in Brain

Published on behalf of The Guarantors of Brain

Volume 132, issue 4, pages 869-878
Published in print April 2009 | ISSN: 0006-8950
Published online January 2009 | e-ISSN: 1460-2156 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awn365

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Multi-voxel pattern analyses have proved successful in ‘decoding’ mental states from fMRI data, but have not been used to examine brain differences associated with atypical populations. We investigated a group of 16 (14 males) high-functioning participants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 16 non-autistic control participants (12 males) performing two tasks (spatial/verbal) previously shown to activate medial rostral prefrontal cortex (mrPFC). Each task manipulated: (i) attention towards perceptual versus self-generated information and (ii) reflection on another person's mental state (‘mentalizing'versus ‘non-mentalizing’) in a 2 × 2 design. Behavioral performance and group-level fMRI results were similar between groups. However, multi-voxel similarity analyses revealed strong differences. In control participants, the spatial distribution of activity generalized significantly between task contexts (spatial/verbal) when examining the same function (attention/mentalizing) but not when comparing different functions. This pattern was disrupted in the ASD group, indicating abnormal functional specialization within mrPFC, and demonstrating the applicability of multi-voxel pattern analysis to investigations of atypical populations.

Keywords: Asperger syndrome; autism; Brodmann Area 10; fMRI; medial prefrontal cortex

Journal Article.  6962 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Neuroscience

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