Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting sociocommunicative behavior, but also sensorimotor skill learning, oculomotor control, and executive functioning. Some of these impairments may be related to abnormalities of the caudate nuclei, which have been reported for autism.
Our sample was comprised of 8 high-functioning males with autism and 8 handedness, sex, and age-matched controls. Subjects underwent functional MRI scanning during performance on simple visuomotor coordination tasks. Functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) effects were identified as interregional blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal cross-correlation, using the caudate nuclei as seed volumes.
In the control group, fcMRI effects were found in circuits with known participation of the caudate nuclei (associative, orbitofrontal, oculomotor, motor circuits). Although in the autism group fcMRI effects within these circuits were less pronounced or absent, autistic subjects showed diffusely increased connectivity mostly in pericentral regions, but also in brain areas outside expected anatomical circuits (such as visual cortex).
These atypical connectivity patterns may be linked to developmental brain growth disturbances recently reported in autism and suggest inefficiently organized functional connectivity between caudate nuclei and cerebral cortex, potentially accounting for stereotypic behaviors and executive impairments.