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Heightened level of amygdala activity may cause social deficits in autism
Date:3/19/2009

of Mental Health funded the research, which appears in the online edition of The American Journal of Psychiatry.

The UW researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activation in 19 individuals with autism and in a comparison group of 20 healthy adults. The subjects ranged in age from 18 to 44 and the two groups were matched for IQs in the low-normal range. Both groups had their brains scanned while they looked at series of faces with neutral expressions. Each face appeared on a screen for three seconds and occasionally a face would be repeated two consecutive times. When that happened subjects were instructed to push a button.

The scientists were interested in what happened in two brain regions, the amygdala and the fusiform gyrus, when the subjects viewed the faces. It turned out that the fusiform gyrus, which helps determine what kind of object a person is looking at a face or a house, for example showed no habituation in either group. But the differences were striking when it came to the amygdala.

"The differences we found were in the amygdala and specific to the amygdala," said Kleinhans. "They originated there and did not go across the brain."

She said one theory about autism is that when this hyperarousal occurs an individual misses important information. Those individuals with autism who had the most social impairment exhibited the highest levels of amygdala arousal.

"This is another piece of evidence that there is something wrong with the amygdala in autism that contributes to social impairment. These results help refine our understanding of functional abnormalities in autism and are a new way of thinking about social dysfunction in autism," said Kleinhans.


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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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