Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a range of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by social communication deficits, repetitive behaviours, and restrictive interests. Impaired inhibition has been suggested to exacerbate the core symptoms of ASD. This is particularly critical during adolescence when social skills are maturing to adult levels. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), we identified the location and timing pattern of neural activity associated with inhibition in adolescents with autism, compared to typically developing adolescents.
The MEG data from 15 adolescents with ASD and 15 age-matched controls (13 to 17 years) were collected during a go/no-go task with inverse ratios of go/no-go trials in two conditions: an inhibition condition (1:2) and a baseline condition (2:1). No-go trials from the two conditions were analyzed using beamformer source localizations from 200 ms to 400 ms post-stimulus onset. Significant activations were determined using permutation testing.
Adolescents with ASD recruited first the right middle frontal gyrus (200 to 250 ms) followed by the left postcentral gyrus (250 to 300 ms) and finally the left middle frontal and right medial frontal gyri (300 to 400 ms). Typically developing adolescents recruited first the left middle frontal gyrus (200 to 250 ms), followed by the left superior and inferior frontal gyri (250 to 300 ms), then the right middle temporal gyrus (300 to 350 ms), and finally the superior and precentral gyri and right inferior lobule (300 to 400 ms).
Adolescents with ASD showed recruitment limited largely to the frontal cortex unlike typically developing adolescents who recruited parietal and temporal regions as well. These findings support the presence of an atypical, restricted inhibitory network in adolescents with ASD compared to controls.