Indexed on: 05 Oct '07Published on: 05 Oct '07Published in: Psychiatry Research
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder involving dysmaturation of widely distributed brain systems. Accordingly, behaviors that depend on distributed systems, such as higher level cognition and sensorimotor control, are compromised in the disorder. The current study investigated alterations in neural systems underlying sensorimotor disturbances in autism. An fMRI investigation was conducted using saccadic and pursuit eye movement paradigms with 13 high functioning individuals with autism and 14 age- and IQ-matched typically developing individuals. Individuals with autism had reduced activation in cortical eye fields and cerebellar hemispheres during both eye movement tasks. When executing visually guided saccades, individuals with autism had greater activation bilaterally in a frontostriatal circuit including dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, caudate nucleus, medial thalamus, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, and right dentate nucleus. The increased activation in prefrontal-striatal-thalamocortical circuitry during visually guided saccades indicates that systems typically dedicated to cognitive control may need to compensate for disturbances in lower-level sensorimotor systems. Reduced activation throughout visual sensorimotor systems may contribute to saccadic and pursuit disturbances that have been reported in autism. These findings document that neurodevelopmental disturbances in autism affect widely distributed brain systems beyond those mediating language and social cognition.