Functional alterations in neural substrates of geometric reasoning in adults with high-functioning autism.

Research paper by Takashi T Yamada, Haruhisa H Ohta, Hiromi H Watanabe, Chieko C Kanai, Masayuki M Tani, Taisei T Ohno, Yuko Y Takayama, Akira A Iwanami, Nobumasa N Kato, Ryuichiro R Hashimoto

Indexed on: 23 Aug '12Published on: 23 Aug '12Published in: PloS one


Individuals with autism spectrum condition (ASC) are known to excel in some perceptual cognitive tasks, but such developed functions have been often regarded as "islets of abilities" that do not significantly contribute to broader intellectual capacities. However, recent behavioral studies have reported that individuals with ASC have advantages for performing Raven's (Standard) Progressive Matrices (RPM/RSPM), a standard neuropsychological test for general fluid intelligence, raising the possibility that ASC's cognitive strength can be utilized for more general purposes like novel problem solving. Here, the brain activity of 25 adults with high-functioning ASC and 26 matched normal controls (NC) was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine neural substrates of geometric reasoning during the engagement of a modified version of the RSPM test. Among the frontal and parietal brain regions involved in fluid intelligence, ASC showed larger activation in the left lateral occipitotemporal cortex (LOTC) during an analytic condition with moderate difficulty than NC. Activation in the left LOTC and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) increased with task difficulty in NC, whereas such modulation of activity was absent in ASC. Furthermore, functional connectivity analysis revealed a significant reduction of activation coupling between the left inferior parietal cortex and the right anterior prefrontal cortex during both figural and analytic conditions in ASC. These results indicate altered pattern of functional specialization and integration in the neural system for geometric reasoning in ASC, which may explain its atypical cognitive pattern, including performance on the Raven's Matrices test.