To assess the dynamic activations of the key brain areas associated with the time-course of the sexual arousal evoked by visual sexual stimuli in healthy male subjects.
Materials and Methods
Fourteen right-handed heterosexual male volunteers participated in this study. Alternatively combined rest period and erotic video visual stimulation were used according to the standard block design. In order to illustrate and quantify the spatiotemporal activation patterns of the key brain regions, the activation period was divided into three different stages as the EARLY, MID and LATE stages.
For the group result (p < 0.05), when comparing the MID stage with the EARLY stage, a significant increase of the brain activation was observed in the areas that included the inferior frontal gyrus, the supplementary motor area, the hippocampus, the head of the caudate nucleus, the midbrain, the superior occipital gyrus and the fusiform gyrus. At the same time, when comparing the EARLY stage with the MID stage, the putamen, the globus pallidus, the pons, the thalamus, the hypothalamus, the lingual gyrus and the cuneus yielded significantly increased activations. When comparing the LATE stage with the MID stage, all the above mentioned brain regions showed elevated activations except the hippocampus.
Our results illustrate the spatiotemporal activation patterns of the key brain regions across the three stages of visual sexual arousal.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Brain activation; Sexual arousal dynamics
Little is known about the neural reorganization that takes place subsequent to lesions that affect orthographic processing (reading and/or spelling). We report on an fMRI investigation of an individual with a left mid-fusiform resection that affected both reading and spelling (Tsapkini & Rapp, 2010). To investigate possible patterns of functional reorganization, we compared the behavioral and neural activation patterns of this individual with those of a group of control participants for the tasks of silent reading of words and pseudowords and the passive viewing of faces and objects, all tasks that typically recruit the inferior temporal lobes. This comparison was carried out with methods that included a novel application of Mahalanobis distance statistics, and revealed: (1) normal behavioral and neural responses for face and object processing, (2) evidence of neural reorganization bilaterally in the posterior fusiform that supported normal performance in pseudoword reading and which contributed to word reading (3) evidence of abnormal recruitment of the bilateral anterior temporal lobes indicating compensatory (albeit insufficient) recruitment of mechanisms for circumventing the word reading deficit.
functional reorganization; reading; fusiform gyrus; Mahalanobis; anterior temporal lobe
Grapheme-color synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which letters and numbers (graphemes) consistently evoke particular colors (e.g., A may be experienced as red). These sensations are thought to arise through the cross-activation of grapheme processing regions in the fusiform gyrus and color area V4, supported by anatomical and functional imaging. However, the developmental onset of grapheme-color synesthesia remains elusive as research in this area has largely relied on self-report of these experiences in children. One possible account suggests that synesthesia is present at or near birth and initially binds basic shapes and forms to colors, which are later refined to grapheme-color associations through experience. Consistent with this view, studies show that similarly shaped letters and numbers tend to elicit similar colors in synesthesia and that some synesthetes consciously associate basic shapes with colors; research additionally suggests that synesthetic colors can emerge for newly learned characters with repeated presentation. This model further predicts that the initial shape-color correspondences in synesthesia may persist as implicit associations, driving the acquisition of colors for novel characters. To examine the presence of latent color associations for novel characters, synesthetes and controls were trained on pre-defined associations between colors and complex shapes, on the assumption that the prescribed shape-color correspondences would on average differ from implicit synesthetic associations. Results revealed synesthetes were less accurate than controls to learn novel shape-color associations, consistent with our suggestion that implicit form-color associations conflicted with the learned pairings.
synesthesia; synaesthesia; language; learning; grapheme
Although its precise functional contribution to reading remains unclear, there is broad consensus that activity in the left mid-fusiform gyrus is highly sensitive to written words and word-like stimuli. In the current study, we take advantage of a particularity of the Chinese writing system in order to manipulate word-likeness parametrically, from real characters, to pseudo-characters that vary in whether they contain phonological and semantic cues, to artificial stimuli with varying surface similarity to real characters. In a one-back task, BOLD activity in the left mid-fusiform was inversely related to word-likeness, such that the least activity was observed in response to real characters, and the greatest to artificial stimuli that violate the orthotactic constraints of the writing system. One possible explanation for this surprising result is that the short-term memory demands of the one-back task put more pressure on the visual system when other sources of information cannot be used to aid in detecting repeated stimuli. For real characters and, to a lesser extent for pseudo-characters, information about meaning and pronunciation can contribute to performance, whereas artificial stimuli are entirely dependent on visual information. Consistent with this view, functional connectivity analyses revealed a strong positive relationship between left mid-fusiform and other visual areas, whereas areas typically involved in phonological and semantic processing for text were negatively correlated with this region.
Recent evidence suggests that the Fusiform Face Area (FFA) is not exclusively dedicated to the interactive processing of face features, but also contains neurons sensitive to local features. This suggests the existence of both interactive and local processing modes, consistent with recent behavioral findings that the strength of interactive feature processing (IFP) engages most strongly when similar features need to be disambiguated. Here we address whether the engagement of the FFA into interactive versus featural representational modes is governed by local feature discriminability. We scanned human participants while they matched target features within face pairs, independently of the context of distracter features. IFP was operationalized as the failure to match the target without being distracted by distracter features. Picture-plane inversion was used to disrupt IFP while preserving input properties. We found that FFA activation was comparably strong, irrespective of whether similar target features were embedded in dissimilar contexts(i.e., inducing robust IFP) or dissimilar target features were embedded in the same context (i.e., engaging local processing). Second, inversion decreased FFA activation to faces most robustly when similar target features were embedded in dissimilar contexts, indicating that FFA engages into IFP mainly when features cannot be disambiguated at a local level. Third, by means of Spearman rank correlation tests, we show that the local processing of feature differences in the FFA is supported to a large extent by the Occipital Face Area, the Lateral Occipital Complex, and early visual cortex, suggesting that these regions encode the local aspects of face information. The present findings confirm the co-existence of holistic and featural representations in the FFA. Furthermore, they establish FFA as the main contributor to the featural/holistic representational mode switches determined by local discriminability.
face perception; interactive; holistic; FFA; feature discriminability
Many neuroimaging studies of semantic memory have argued that knowledge of an object’s perceptual properties are represented in a modality-specific manner. These studies often base their argument on finding activation in the left-hemisphere fusiform gyrus - a region assumed to be involved in perceptual processing - when the participant is verifying verbal statements about objects and properties. In this paper we report an extension of one of these influential papers—Kan, Barsalou, Solomon, Minor, and Thompson-Schill (2003)—and present evidence for an amodal component in the representation and processing of perceptual knowledge. Participants were required to verify object-property statements (e.g., “cat- whiskers?”; “bear-wings?”) while they were being scanned by fMRI. We replicated Kan et al’s activation in the left fusiform gyrus, but also found activation in regions of left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and middle-temporal gyrus, areas known to reflect amodal processes or representations. Further, only activations in the left IFG, an amodal area, were correlated with measures of behavioral performance.
Perceptual knowledge; representations; semantics; neuroimaging; modality-specificity
Previous studies have shown differential responses in the fusiform and lingual gyri during reading and suggested that the former is engaged in processing local features of visual stimuli and the latter is engaged in global shape processing. We used positron emission tomography in order to investigate how these regions are modulated by two common variables in reading: word length (three, six and nine letters) and perceptive similarity to the background (high and low contrast). Increasing both word length and visual contrast had a positive monotonic effect on activation in the bilateral fusiform. However, in the lingual gyrus, activation increased with increasing word length but decreased with increasing contrast. On the basis of previous studies, we suggest that (i) increasing word length increases the demands on both local feature and global shape processing, but (ii) increasing visual contrast increases the demands on local feature processing while decreasing the demands on global shape processing.
We report the results of an fMRI investigation of the neural bases of written language comprehension (reading) and production (spelling). Both tasks were examined in the same individuals, allowing greater precision in establishing the relationship between the neural underpinnings of these two cognitive functions. Also examined was the relationship between written language substrates and those involved in face and object (house) processing. The results reveal that reading and spelling share specific left hemisphere substrates in the mid-fusiform gyrus and in the inferior frontal gyrus/junction. Furthermore, the results indicate that the left mid-fusiform substrates are specifically involved in lexical orthographic processing. We also find that written language and face processing exhibit largely complementary activation patterns in both the fusiform and the inferior frontal/junction areas, with left and right lateralization, respectively. In sum, these results provide perhaps the strongest evidence to date of components that are shared by written language comprehension (reading) and production (spelling), and they further our understanding of the role of literacy within the larger repertoire of cognitive operations and their neural substrates.
Previous functional neuroimaging studies have shown that the left mid-fusiform cortex plays a critical role in reading. However, there is very limited research relating this region’s anatomical structure to reading performance either in native or second language. Using structural MRI and three reading tasks (Chinese characters, English words, and alphabetic pseudowords) and a non-reading task (visual-auditory learning), this study investigated the contributions of the left mid-fusiform cortical thickness to reading in a large sample of 226 Chinese subjects. Results showed that cortical thickness in the left mid-fusiform gyrus was positively correlated with performance on all three reading tasks but not with the performance on the non-reading task. Our findings provide structural evidence for the left mid-fusiform cortex as the “gateway” region for reading Chinese and English. The absence of the association between the left mid-fusiform cortical thickness and non-reading performance implied the specific role of this area in reading skills, not in general language skills.
the left mid-fusiform cortex; cortical thickness; reading
The present study investigated whether emotionally expressive faces guide attention and modulate fMRI activity in fusiform gyrus in acquired prosopagnosia. Patient PS, a pure case of acquired prosopagnosia with intact right middle fusiform gyrus, performed two behavioral experiments and a functional imaging experiment to address these questions. In a visual search task involving face stimuli, PS was faster to select the target face when it was expressing fear or happiness as compared to when it was emotionally neutral. In a change detection task, PS detected significantly more changes when the changed face was fearful as compared to when it was neutral. Finally, an fMRI experiment showed enhanced activation to emotionally expressive faces and bodies in right fusiform gyrus. In addition, PS showed normal body-selective activation in right fusiform gyrus, partially overlapping the fusiform face area. Together these behavioral and neuroimaging results show that attention was preferentially allocated to emotional faces in patient PS, as observed in healthy subjects. We conclude that systems involved in the emotional guidance of attention by facial expression can function normally in acquired prosopagnosia, and can thus be dissociated from systems involved in face identification.
prosopagnosia; emotion; face processing; FFA; FBA; attentional capture
Controversy surrounds the proposal that specific human cortical regions in the ventral occipitotemporal cortex, commonly called the fusiform face area (FFA) and occipital face area (OFA), are specialized for face processing. Here, we present findings from an fMRI study of identity discrimination of faces and objects that demonstrates the FFA and OFA are equally responsive to processing stimuli at the level of individuals (i.e., individuation), be they human faces or non-face objects. The FFA and OFA were defined via a passive viewing task as regions that produced greater activation to faces relative to non-face stimuli within the middle fusiform gyrus and inferior occipital gyrus. In the individuation task, participants judged whether sequentially presented images of faces, diverse objects, or wristwatches depicted the identical or a different exemplar. All three stimulus types produced equivalent BOLD activation within the FFA and OFA; that is, there was no face-specific or face-preferential processing. Critically, individuation processing did not eliminate an object superiority effect relative to faces within a region more closely linked to object processing in the lateral occipital complex (LOC), suggesting that individuation processes are reasonably specific to the FFA and OFA. Taken together, these findings challenge the prevailing view that the FFA and OFA are face-specific processing regions, demonstrating instead that they function to individuate – i.e., identify specific individuals – within a category. These findings have significant implications for understanding the function of brain regions widely believed to play an important role in social cognition.
fusiform face area; face processing; functional MRI; visual processing; occipital face area
In fingerspelling, different hand configurations are used to represent the different letters of the alphabet. Signers use this method of representing written language to fill lexical gaps in a signed language. Using fMRI, we compared cortical networks supporting the perception of fingerspelled, signed, written, and pictorial stimuli in deaf native signers of British Sign Language (BSL). In order to examine the effects of linguistic knowledge, hearing participants who knew neither fingerspelling nor a signed language were also tested. All input forms activated a left fronto-temporal network, including portions of left inferior temporal and mid-fusiform gyri, in both groups. To examine the extent to which activation in this region was influenced by orthographic structure, two contrasts of orthographic and non-orthographic stimuli were made: one using static stimuli (text vs. pictures), the other using dynamic stimuli (fingerspelling vs. signed language). Greater activation in left and right inferior temporal and mid-fusiform gyri was found for pictures than text in both deaf and hearing groups. In the fingerspelling vs. signed language contrast, a significant interaction indicated locations within the left and right mid-fusiform gyri. This showed greater activation for fingerspelling than signed language in deaf but not hearing participants. These results are discussed in light of recent proposals that the mid-fusiform gyrus may act as an integration region, mediating between visual input and higher-order stimulus properties.
Experience can alter how objects are represented in the visual cortex. But experience can take different forms. It is unknown whether the kind of visual experience systematically alters the nature of visual cortical object representations.
We take advantage of different training regimens found to produce qualitatively different types of perceptual expertise behaviorally in order to contrast the neural changes that follow different kinds of visual experience with the same objects. Two groups of participants went through training regimens that required either subordinate-level individuation or basic-level categorization of a set of novel, artificial objects, called “Ziggerins”. fMRI activity of a region in the right fusiform gyrus increased after individuation training and was correlated with the magnitude of configural processing of the Ziggerins observed behaviorally. In contrast, categorization training caused distributed changes, with increased activity in the medial portion of the ventral occipito-temporal cortex relative to more lateral areas.
Our results demonstrate that the kind of experience with a category of objects can systematically influence how those objects are represented in visual cortex. The demands of prior learning experience therefore appear to be one factor determining the organization of activity patterns in visual cortex.
In order to probe the organization of the contractile machinery in smooth muscle, we have studied the distribution of alpha-actinin, a protein present in high concentration in dense bodies, structures apparently analogous to the Z-disks of striated muscle. Localization of alpha-actinin in single isolated smooth muscle cells of the stomach muscularis of Bufo marinus was determined by analysis of the pattern of anti-alpha-actinin staining in single fluorescence photomicrographs, stereo pair micrographs, and computerized three-dimensional reconstructions from multiple image planes. The distribution of anti- alpha-actinin and antitubulin staining was compared in contracted and relaxed cells. The studies revealed that alpha-actinin is present in high concentrations in fusiform elements (mean axial ratio = 4.82) throughout the cytoplasm and in larger, more irregularly shaped plaques along the cell margins. Many of the fusiform-stained elements are organized into stringlike arrays characterized by a regular repeating pattern (mean center-to-center interspace = 2.2 +/- 0.1 micron). These linear arrays appear to terminate at the anti-alpha-actinin stained larger plaques along the cell margin; several of these strings often run in parallel with their elements in lateral register. While this general pattern of organization is maintained in cells during contraction, the distance between successive stained elements in stringlike arrays is decreased. We suggest that the decrease in the distance between elements in these strings results from shortening of materials that constitute these linear arrays. We do not believe that the shortening within these arrays reflects compression by forces generated elsewhere within the cell, as the reorganization of noncontractile microtubules is qualitatively different from the changes in the pattern of anti-alpha-actinin staining.
Children with autism exhibit impairment in the processing of socioemotional information. The amygdala, a core structure centrally involved in socioemotional functioning, has been implicated in the neuropathology of autism. We collected structural and functional MRI images in children 8-to-12 years of age with high functioning autism (n=12) and typical development (n=15). The fMRI experiment involved matching facial expressions and people. Volumetric analysis of the amygdala was also performed. The results showed that children with autism exhibited intact emotion matching, while showing diminished activation of the fusiform gyrus (FG) and the amygdala. Conversely, the autism group showed deficits in person matching amidst some FG and variable amygdala activation. No significant between group differences in the volume of the left or right amygdala were found. There were associations between age, social anxiety and amygdala volume in the children with autism such that smaller volumes were generally associated with more anxiety and younger age. In summary, the data are consistent with abnormalities in circuits involved in emotion and face processing reported in studies of older subjects with autism showing reductions in amygdala activation related to emotion processing and reduced fusiform activation involved in face processing.
fMRI; fusiform gyrus; volume; socioemotional; coupling; anxiety
To examine neural response to spoken and printed language in children with speech sound errors (SSE).
Functional MRI was used to compare processing of auditorily and visually presented words and pseudowords in 17 children with SSE, ages 8;6–10;10, to 17 matched controls.
When processing spoken words and pseudowords, the SSE group showed less activation than typically speaking controls in left middle temporal gyrus. They also showed greater activation than controls in several cortical and subcortical regions (e.g., left superior temporal gyrus, globus pallidus, insula, fusiform and bilateral parietal regions). In response to printed words and pseudowords, children with SSE had greater activation than controls in regions including bilateral fusiform and anterior cingulate. Some differences were found in both speech and print processing that that may be associated with children with SSE failing to show common patterns of task-induced deactivation and/or attentional resource allocation.
Compared with controls, children with SSE appear to rely more upon several dorsal speech perception regions and less on ventral speech perception regions. When processing print, numerous regions were observed to be activated more for the SSE group than for controls.
Much of the lower urinary tract, including the bladder, is lined by a stratified urothelium forming a highly differentiated, superficial umbrella cell layer. The apical plasma membrane as well as abundant cytoplasmic fusiform vesicles of the umbrella cells is covered by two-dimensional crystals that are formed by four membrane proteins named uroplakins (UPs) Ia, Ib, II, and III. UPs are synthesized on membrane-bound polysomes, and after several co- and posttranslational modifications they assemble into planar crystals in a post-Golgi vesicular compartment. Distension of the bladder may cause fusiform vesicles to fuse with the apical plasma membrane. We have investigated the early stages of uroplakin assembly by expressing the four uroplakins in 293T cells. Transfection experiments showed that, when expressed individually, only UPIb can exit from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and move to the plasma membrane, whereas UPII and UPIII reach the plasma membrane only when they form heterodimeric complexes with UPIa and UPIb, respectively. Heterodimer formation in the ER was confirmed by pulse-chase experiment followed by coimmunoprecipitation. Our results indicate that the initial building blocks for the assembly of crystalline uroplakin plaques are heterodimeric uroplakin complexes that form in the ER.
Ventral-visual activity in older adults has been characterized by dedifferentiation, or reduced distinctiveness, of responses to different categories of visual stimuli such as faces and houses, that typically elicit highly specialized responses in the fusiform and parahippocampal brain regions respectively in young adults (Park et al., 2004). In the present study, we demonstrate that age-related neural dedifferentiation applies to within-category stimuli (different types of faces) as well, such that older adults process less distinctive representations for individual faces than young adults. We performed a functional magnetic resonance imaging adaptation experiment while young and older participants made same-different judgments to serially presented face-pairs that were Identical, Moderate in similarity through morphing, or Different. As expected, older adults showed adaptation in the fusiform face area (FFA), during the Identical as well as the Moderate conditions relative to the Different condition. Young adults showed adaptation during the Identical condition, but minimal adaptation to the Moderate condition. These results indicate that older adults’ FFA treated the morphed faces as Identical faces, reflecting decreased fidelity of neural representation of faces with age.
Aging; Dedifferentiation; Faces; Fusiform Area; Adaptation
The tendency to perceive faces in random patterns exhibiting configural properties of faces is an example of pareidolia. Perception of ‘real’ faces has been associated with a cortical response signal arising at about 170ms after stimulus onset; but what happens when non-face objects are perceived as faces? Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), we found that objects incidentally perceived as faces evoked an early (165ms) activation in the ventral fusiform cortex, at a time and location similar to that evoked by faces, whereas common objects did not evoke such activation. An earlier peak at 130 ms was also seen for images of real faces only. Our findings suggest that face perception evoked by face-like objects is a relatively early process, and not a late re-interpretation cognitive phenomenon.
Face perception; subcortical route; object perception; magnetoencephalography
Humans are remarkably proficient at categorizing visually-similar objects. To better understand the cortical basis of this categorization process, we used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record neural activity while participants learned–with feedback–to discriminate two highly-similar, novel visual categories. We hypothesized that although prefrontal regions would mediate early category learning, this role would diminish with increasing category familiarity and that regions within the ventral visual pathway would come to play a more prominent role in encoding category-relevant information as learning progressed. Early in learning we observed some degree of categorical discriminability and predictability in both prefrontal cortex and the ventral visual pathway. Predictability improved significantly above chance in the ventral visual pathway over the course of learning with the left inferior temporal and fusiform gyri showing the greatest improvement in predictability between 150 and 250 ms (M200) during category learning. In contrast, there was no comparable increase in discriminability in prefrontal cortex with the only significant post-learning effect being a decrease in predictability in the inferior frontal gyrus between 250 and 350 ms (M300). Thus, the ventral visual pathway appears to encode learned visual categories over the long term. At the same time these results add to our understanding of the cortical origins of previously reported signature temporal components associated with perceptual learning.
visual category learning; categorization; ventral visual pathway; prefrontal cortex; cortical time course; decoding; MEG; human neuroscience
Decades of research have documented the specialization of fusiform gyrus (FG) for facial information processes. Recent theories indicate that FG activity is shaped by input from amygdala, but effective connectivity from amygdala to FG remains undocumented. In this fMRI study, 39 participants completed a face recognition task. 11 participants underwent the same experiment approximately four months later. Robust face-selective activation of FG, amygdala, and lateral occipital cortex were observed. Dynamic causal modeling and Bayesian Model Selection (BMS) were used to test the intrinsic connections between these structures, and their modulation by face perception. BMS results strongly favored a dynamic causal model with bidirectional, face-modulated amygdala-FG connections. However, the right hemisphere connections diminished at time 2, with the face modulation parameter no longer surviving Bonferroni correction. These findings suggest that amygdala strongly influences FG function during face perception, and that this influence is shaped by experience and stimulus salience.
Functional MRI; Face processing; Amygdala; Effective connectivity; Dynamic causal modeling
Social interaction and comprehension of non-verbal behaviour requires a representation of people’s bodies. Research into the neural underpinnings of body representation implicates several brain regions including extrastriate and fusiform body areas (EBA and FBA), superior temporal sulcus (STS), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and inferior parietal lobule (IPL). The different roles played by these regions in parsing familiar and unfamiliar body postures remain unclear. We examined the responses of this body observation network to static images of ordinary and contorted postures by using a repetition suppression design in functional neuroimaging. Participants were scanned whilst observing static images of a contortionist or a group of objects in either ordinary or unusual configurations, presented from different viewpoints. Greater activity emerged in EBA and FBA when participants viewed contorted compared to ordinary body postures. Repeated presentation of the same posture from different viewpoints lead to suppressed responses in the fusiform gyrus as well as three regions that are characteristically activated by observing moving bodies, namely STS, IFG and IPL. These four regions did not distinguish the image viewpoint or the plausibility of the posture. Together, these data define a broad cortical network for processing static body postures, including regions classically associated with action observation.
Body representation; fMRI; EBA; Contortion; Mirror neuron system
Shape analysis is useful for a wide variety of disciplines and has many applications. There are many approaches to shape analysis, one of which focuses on the analysis of shapes that are represented by the coordinates of predefined landmarks on the object. This paper discusses Tridimensional Regression, a technique that can be used for mapping images and shapes that are represented by sets of three-dimensional landmark coordinates, for comparing and mapping 3D anatomical structures. The degree of similarity between shapes can be quantified using the tridimensional coefficient of determination (R2). An experiment was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of this technique to correctly match the image of a face with another image of the same face. These results were compared to the R2 values obtained when only two dimensions are used and show that using three dimensions increases the ability to correctly match and discriminate between faces.
Recent evidence suggests that a rapid, automatic face-detection system is supported by subcortical structures including the amygdala, pulvinar, and superior colliculus. Early emerging abnormalities in these structures may be related to reduced social orienting in children with autism, and subsequently, to aberrant development of cortical circuits involved in face processing. Our objective was to determine whether functional abnormalities in the subcortical face processing system are present in adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) during supraliminal fearful face processing. Participants included twenty-eight individuals with ASD and 25 controls group-matched on age, IQ, and behavioral performance. The ASD group met diagnostic criteria on the ADI-R, ADOS-G, and DSM-IV. Both the ASD and control groups showed significant activation in bilateral fusiform gyri. The control group exhibited additional significant responses in the right amygdala, right pulvinar, and bilateral superior colliculi. In the direct group comparison, the controls showed significantly greater activation in the left amygdala, bilateral fusiform gyrus, right pulvinar, and bilateral superior colliculi. No brain region showed significantly greater activation in the ASD group compared to the controls. Thus, basic rapid face identification mechanisms appear to be functional in ASD. However, individuals with ASD failed to engage the subcortical brain regions involved in face detection and automatic emotional face processing, suggesting a core mechanism for impaired socioemotional processing in ASD. Neural abnormalities in this system may contribute to early emerging deficits in social orienting and attention, the putative precursors to abnormalities in social cognition and cortical face processing specialization.
Despite elegant behavioral descriptions of abnormalities for processing emotional facial expressions and biological motion in autism, identification of the neural mechanisms underlying these abnormalities remains a critical and largely unmet challenge. We compared brain activity with dynamic and static facial expressions in participants with and without high-functioning autism using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and three classes of face stimuli—emotion morphs (fearful and angry), identity morphs and static images (fearful, angry and neutral). We observed reduced activity in the amygdala (AMY) and fusiform gyrus (FFG) to dynamic emotional expressions in people with autism. There was also a lack of modulation by dynamic compared with static emotional expressions of social brain regions including the AMY, posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS) region and FFG. We observed equivalent emotion and identity morph-evoked activity in participants with and without autism in a region corresponding to the expected location of the more generally motion-sensitive area MT or V5. We conclude that dysfunctions in key components of the human face processing system including the AMY, FFG and posterior STS region are present in individuals with high-functioning autism, and this dysfunction might contribute to the deficits in processing emotional facial expressions.
autism; amygdala; emotion; face processing; fMRI