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1.  Atypical Neural Processing of Ironic and Sincere Remarks in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders 
Metaphor and symbol  2012;27(1):70-92.
Individuals with ASD show consistent impairment in processing pragmatic language when attention to multiple social cues (e.g., facial expression, tone of voice) is often needed to navigate social interactions. Building upon prior fMRI work examining how facial affect and prosodic cues are used to infer a speaker's communicative intent, the authors examined whether children and adolescents with ASD differ from typically developing (TD) controls in their processing of sincere versus ironic remarks. At the behavioral level, children and adolescents with ASD and matched TD controls were able to determine whether a speaker's remark was sincere or ironic equally well, with both groups showing longer response times for ironic remarks. At the neural level, for both sincere and ironic scenarios, an extended cortical network—including canonical language areas in the left hemisphere and their right hemisphere counterparts—was activated in both groups, albeit to a lesser degree in the ASD sample. Despite overall similar patterns of activity observed for the two conditions in both groups, significant modulation of activity was detected when directly comparing sincere and ironic scenarios within and between groups. While both TD and ASD groups showed significantly greater activity in several nodes of this extended network when processing ironic versus sincere remarks, increased activity was largely confined to left language areas in TD controls, whereas the ASD sample showed a more bilateral activation profile which included both language and “theory of mind” areas (i.e., ventromedial prefrontal cortex). These findings suggest that, for high-functioning individuals with ASD, increased activity in right hemisphere homologues of language areas in the left hemisphere, as well as regions involved in social cognition, may reflect compensatory mechanisms supporting normative behavioral task performance.
doi:10.1080/10926488.2012.638856
PMCID: PMC3909704  PMID: 24497750
2.  Neural and Behavioral Responses During Self-Evaluative Processes Differ in Youth With and Without Autism 
This fMRI study investigated neural responses while making appraisals of self and other, across the social and academic domains, in children and adolescents with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Compared to neurotypical youth, those with ASD exhibited hypoactivation of ventromedial prefrontal cortex during self-appraisals. Responses in middle cingulate cortex (MCC) and anterior insula (AI) also distinguished between groups. Stronger activity in MCC and AI during self-appraisals was associated with better social functioning in the ASD group. Although self-appraisals were significantly more positive in the neurotypical group, positivity was unrelated to brain activity in these regions. Together, these results suggest that multiple brain regions support making self-appraisals in neurotypical development, and function atypically in youth with ASD.
doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1563-3
PMCID: PMC3507334  PMID: 22760337
Autism; Self; Ventral mPFC; Anterior insula; Middle cingulate cortex; Development
3.  Reduced Functional Integration and Segregation of Distributed Neural Systems Underlying Social and Emotional Information Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorders 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2011;22(5):1025-1037.
A growing body of evidence suggests that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are related to altered communication between brain regions. Here, we present findings showing that ASD is characterized by a pattern of reduced functional integration as well as reduced segregation of large-scale brain networks. Twenty-three children with ASD and 25 typically developing matched controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while passively viewing emotional face expressions. We examined whole-brain functional connectivity of two brain structures previously implicated in emotional face processing in autism: the amygdala bilaterally and the right pars opercularis of the inferior frontal gyrus (rIFGpo). In the ASD group, we observed reduced functional integration (i.e., less long-range connectivity) between amygdala and secondary visual areas, as well as reduced segregation between amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. For the rIFGpo seed, we observed reduced functional integration with parietal cortex and increased integration with right frontal cortex as well as right nucleus accumbens. Finally, we observed reduced segregation between rIFGpo and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. We propose that a systems-level approach—whereby the integration and segregation of large-scale brain networks in ASD is examined in relation to typical development—may provide a more detailed characterization of the neural basis of ASD.
doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr171
PMCID: PMC3328339  PMID: 21784971
amygdala; connectivity; default mode network; face processing; mirror neuron system
4.  An fMRI investigation of responses to peer rejection in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders 
Peer rejection is particularly pervasive among adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, how adolescents with ASD differ from typically developing adolescents in their responses to peer rejection is poorly understood. The goal of the current investigation was to examine neural responses to peer exclusion among adolescents with ASD compared to typically developing adolescents. Nineteen adolescents with ASD and 17 typically developing controls underwent fMRI as they were ostensibly excluded by peers during an online game called Cyberball. Afterwards, participants reported their distress about the exclusion. Compared to typically developing adolescents, those with ASD displayed less activity in regions previously linked with the distressing aspect of peer exclusion, including the subgenual anterior cingulate and anterior insula, as well as less activity in regions previously linked with the regulation of distress responses during peer exclusion, including the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum. Interestingly, however, both groups self-reported equivalent levels of distress. This suggests that adolescents with ASD may engage in differential processing of social experiences at the neural level, but be equally aware of, and concerned about, peer rejection. Overall, these findings contribute new insights about how this population may differentially experience negative social events in their daily lives.
doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2011.01.004
PMCID: PMC3272329  PMID: 22318914
Autism spectrum disorders; Peer rejection; Social exclusion; Adolescence; Functional magnetic resonance imaging
5.  COMT genotype affects prefrontal white matter pathways in children and adolescents 
NeuroImage  2010;53(3):926-934.
Diffusion tensor imaging is widely used to evaluate the development of white matter. Information about how alterations in major neurotransmitter systems, such as the dopamine (DA) system, influence this development in healthy children, however, is lacking. Catechol-O-metyltransferase (COMT) is the major enzyme responsible for DA degradation in prefrontal brain structures, for which there is a corresponding genetic polymorphism (val158met) that confers either a more or less efficient version of this enzyme. The result of this common genetic variation is that children may have more or less available synaptic DA in prefrontal brain regions. In the present study we examined the relation between diffusion properties of frontal white matter structures and the COMT val158met polymorphism in 40 children ages 9–15. We found that the val allele was associated with significantly elevated fractional anisotropy values and reduced axial and radial diffusivities. These results indicate that the development of white matter in healthy children is related to COMT genotype and that alterations in white matter may be related to the differential availability of prefrontal DA. This investigation paves the way for further studies of how common functional variants in the genome might influence the development of brain white matter.
doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.033
PMCID: PMC2902616  PMID: 20083203
COMT; children; diffusion tensor imaging; DTI; white matter; genotype; tractography; fractional anisotrophy

Results 1-5 (5)