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Young adolescents with autism show abnormal joint attention network: A gaze contingent fMRI study


Schilbach,  L.
Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Max Planck Society;

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Oberwelland, E., Schilbach, L., Barisic, I., Krall, S. C., Vogeley, K., Fink, G. R., et al. (2017). Young adolescents with autism show abnormal joint attention network: A gaze contingent fMRI study. NEUROIMAGE-CLINICAL, 14, 112-121. doi:10.1016/j.nicl.2017.01.006.

Behavioral research has revealed deficits in the development of joint attention (JA) as one of the earliest signs of autism. While the neural basis of JA has been studied predominantly in adults, we recently demonstrated a protracted development of the brain networks supporting JA in typically developing children and adolescents. The present eye-tracking/fMRI study now extends these findings to adolescents with autism. Our results show that in adolescents with autism JA is subserved by abnormal activation patterns in brain areas related to social cognition abnormalities which are at the core of ASD including the STS and TPJ, despite behavioral maturation with no behavioral differences. Furthermore, in the autism group we observed increased neural activity in a network of social and emotional processing areas during interactions with their mother. Moreover, data indicated that less severely affected individuals with autism showed higher frontal activation associated with self-initiated interactions. Taken together, this study provides first-time data of JA in children/adolescents with autism incorporating the interactive character of JA, its reciprocity and motivational aspects. The observed functional differences in adolescents ASD suggest that persistent developmental differences in the neural processes underlying JA contribute to social interaction difficulties in ASD. (C) 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc.