Abnormal Ventral Temporal Cortical Activity During Face Discrimination Among Individuals With Autism and Asperger Syndrome | Autism Spectrum Disorders | JAMA Psychiatry | JAMA Network
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Original Article
April 2000

Abnormal Ventral Temporal Cortical Activity During Face Discrimination Among Individuals With Autism and Asperger Syndrome

Author Affiliations

From the Child Study Center (Drs Schultz, Klin, Volkmar, and Cohen) and the Departments of Psychology (Drs Gauthier, Volkmar, and Cohen) and Diagnostic Radiology (Drs Anderson, Fulbright, Skudlarski, and Gore and Ms Lacadie), Yale University, New Haven, Conn. Dr Gauthier is now at Vanderbilt University Department of Psychology, Nashville, Tenn.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2000;57(4):331-340. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.57.4.331

Background  Recognition of individual faces is an integral part of both interpersonal interactions and successful functioning within a social group. Therefore, it is of considerable interest that individuals with autism and related conditions have selective deficits in face recognition (sparing nonface object recognition).

Method  We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study face and subordinate-level object perception in 14 high-functioning individuals with autism or Asperger syndrome (the autism group), in comparison with 2 groups of matched normal controls (normal control group 1 [NC1] and normal control group 2 [NC2]) (n=14 for each). Regions of interest (ROIs) were defined in NC1 and then applied in comparisons between NC2 and the autism group. Regions of interest were also defined in NC2 and then applied to comparisons between NC1 and the autism group as a replication study.

Results  In the first set of comparisons, we found significant task × group interactions for the size of activation in the right fusiform gyrus (FG) and right inferior temporal gyri (ITG). Post hoc analyses showed that during face (but not object) discrimination, the autism group had significantly greater activation than controls in the right ITG and less activation of the right FG. The replication study showed again that the autism group used the ITG significantly more for processing faces than the control groups, but for these analyses, the effect was now on the left side. Greater ITG activation was the pattern found in both control groups during object processing.

Conclusions  Individuals with autism spectrum disorders demonstrate a pattern of brain activity during face discrimination that is consistent with feature based strategies that are more typical of nonface object perception.