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Difficulty in recognizing faces in autism linked to performance in a group of neurons
Date:3/18/2013

WASHINGTON Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) have discovered a brain anomaly that explains why some people diagnosed with autism cannot easily recognize faces a deficit linked to the impairments in social interactions considered to be the hallmark of the disorder.

They also say that the novel neuroimaging analysis technique they developed to arrive at this finding is likely to help link behavioral deficits to differences at the neural level in a range of neurological disorders.

The final manuscript published March 15 in the online journal NeuroImage: Clinical, the scientists say that in the brains of many individuals with autism, neurons in the brain area that processes faces (the fusiform face area, or FFA) are too broadly "tuned" to finely discriminate between facial features of different people. They made this discovery using a form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that scans output from the blueberry-sized FFA, located behind the right ear.

"When your brain is processing faces, you want neurons to respond selectively so that each is picking up a different aspect of individual faces. The neurons need to be finely tuned to understand what is dissimilar from one face to another," says the study's senior investigator, Maximilian Riesenhuber, PhD., an associate professor of neuroscience at GUMC.

"What we found in our 15 adult participants with autism is that in those with more severe behavioral deficits, the neurons are more broadly tuned, so that one face looks more like another, as compared with the fine tuning seen in the FFA of typical adults," he says.

"And we found evidence that reduced selectivity in FFA neurons corresponded to greater behavioral deficits in everyday face recognition in our participants. This makes sense. If your neurons cannot tell different faces apart, it makes it more difficult to tell who is talking to you or understand the facial expressions that are convey
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Contact: Karen Mallet
km463@georgetown.edu
Georgetown University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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