The fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene plays an important role in the development and maintenance of neuronal circuits that are essential for cognitive functioning. We explored the functional linkage(s) among lymphocytic FMR1 gene expression, brain structure, and working memory in healthy adult males. We acquired T1-weighted and diffusion tensor imaging from 34 males (18–80 years, mean ± SD = 43.6 ± 18.4 years) with normal FMR1 alleles and performed genetic and working memory assessments. Brain measurements were obtained from fiber tracts important for working memory (i.e. the arcuate fasciculus, anterior cingulum bundle, inferior longitudinal fasciculus, and the genu and anterior body of the corpus callosum), individual voxels, and whole brain. Both FMR1 mRNA and protein (FMRP) levels exhibited significant associations with brain measurements, with FMRP correlating positively with gray matter volume and white matter structural organization, and FMR1 mRNA negatively with white matter structural organization. The correlation was widespread, impacting rostral white matter and 2 working-memory fiber tracts for FMRP, and all cerebral white matter areas except fornix and cerebellar peduncles and all 4 fiber tracts for FMR1 mRNA. In addition, the levels of FMR1 mRNA as well as the fiber tracts demonstrated significant correlation with working memory performance. While FMR1 mRNA exhibited negative correlation with working memory, fiber tract structural organization showed positive correlation. These findings suggest that the FMR1 gene is a genetic factor in common for both working memory and the brain structure, and has implications for our understanding of the transmission of intelligence and brain structure.
FMR1; Diffusion tensor imaging; Working memory; Cognition; White matter; Tractography
Recent evidence suggests those with autism may be generally impaired in visual motion perception. To examine this, we investigated both coherent and biological motion processing in adolescents with autism employing both psychophysical and fMRI methods. Those with autism performed as well as matched controls during coherent motion perception but had significantly higher thresholds for biological motion perception. The autism group showed reduced posterior Superior Temporal Sulcus (pSTS), parietal and frontal activity during a biological motion task while showing similar levels of activity in MT+/V5 during both coherent and biological motion trials. Activity in MT+/V5 was predictive of individual coherent motion thresholds in both groups. Activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and pSTS was predictive of biological motion thresholds in control participants but not in those with autism. Notably, however, activity in DLPFC was negatively related to autism symptom severity. These results suggest that impairments in higher-order social or attentional networks may underlie visual motion deficits observed in autism.
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common cause of inherited intellectual disability and non-idiopathic autism. Individuals with FXS present with a behavioral phenotype of specific and selective deficits in an array of cognitive skills. Disruption of number processing and arithmetic abilities in higher-functioning adults and female adolescents with FXS has been well established. Still, both numerical skills and developmentally antecedent cognitive processes have just begun to be investigated in toddlers with FXS. The goal of the current study was to assess how very young children with FXS respond to ordinal relationships among numerical magnitudes.
Infrared eye-tracking was used to explore infants’ novelty recognition during passive viewing of ordinal numerical sequences; t-tests were used to analyze group differences in looking time.
Ordinal recognition of numerical magnitudes is significantly impaired in young toddlers with FXS.
This study is the first to experimentally evaluate early number sense and ordinal recognition in toddlers with FXS, and our findings reveal that ordinal recognition of numerical magnitudes is significantly impaired in young toddlers with FXS, suggesting that later arithmetic impairments associated with FXS may have their origins in a developmental impairment of this more basic aspect of numerical cognition.
Approximate number system; Development; Magnitude
Fragile X syndrome is the most common cause of inherited intellectual impairment and the most common single-gene cause of autism. Individuals with fragile X syndrome present with a neurobehavioural phenotype that includes selective deficits in spatiotemporal visual perception associated with neural processing in frontal–parietal networks of the brain. The goal of the current study was to examine whether reduced resolution of spatial and/or temporal visual attention may underlie perceptual deficits related to fragile X syndrome. Eye tracking was used to psychophysically measure the limits of spatial and temporal attention in infants with fragile X syndrome and age-matched neurotypically developing infants. Results from these experiments revealed that infants with fragile X syndrome experience drastically reduced resolution of temporal attention in a genetic dose-sensitive manner, but have a spatial resolution of attention that is not impaired. Coarse temporal attention could have significant knock-on effects for the development of perceptual, cognitive and motor abilities in individuals with the disorder.
crowding; flicker; magnocellular; Mooney; contrast sensitivity
The fragile X premutation provides a unique opportunity for the study of genetic and brain mechanisms of behavior and cognition in the context of neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration. Although the neurodegenerative phenotype, fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS), is well described, evidence of a causal link between the premutation and psychiatric disorder earlier in life, clear delineation of a behavioral/cognitive phenotype, and characterization of the physiological basis of observed symptoms have been elusive.
We completed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) targeting the amygdala with an emotion-matching task and concurrent infra-red eyetracking, FMR1 molecular genetic testing, and neuropsychological assessment in 23 men with the premutation (mean age = 32.9 years) and 25 male controls (mean age = 30.1).
Premutation carriers had significantly smaller left and right amygdala volume and reduced right amygdala activation during the task relative to controls. Although both elevated FMR1 mRNA and reduced FMR1 protein (FMRP) were associated with the reduced activation, multiple regression analysis suggested that reduced FMRP is the primary factor. Premutation carriers also had higher ratings of autism spectrum symptoms than controls that were associated with the reduced amygdala response.
Although prior studies have emphasized a toxic gain-of-function effect of elevated mRNA associated with the premutation, the current results point to the role of reduced FMRP in alterations of brain activity and behavior.
FMR1; fragile X; premutation; amygdala; insula; FXTAS
A previous study reported preliminary results of enhanced processing of simple visual information in the form of faster reaction times, in female fragile X premutation carriers (fXPCs). In this study, we assessed manual and oral motor reaction times in 30 female fXPCs and 20 neurotypical (NT) controls. Participants completed two versions of the reaction time task; one version required a manual motor response and the other version required an oral motor response. Results revealed that the female fXPCs displayed faster reaction times for both manual and oral motor responses relative to NT controls. Molecular measures including CGG repeat length, FMR1 mRNA levels, and age were not associated with performance in either group. Given previously reported age and CGG repeat modulated performance on a magnitude comparison task in this same group of premutation carriers, results from the current study seem to suggest that female fXPCs may have spared basic psychomotor functionality.
Psychomotor performance; Anxiety; Cortiospinal tract; Corticopontine tract; Motor cortex; X-linked genetic disease
Older male premutation carriers of the FMR1 gene are associated with the risk of developing a late-onset neurodegenerative disorder, fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS). Although previous postmortem and in vivo MRI studies have indicated white matter pathology, the regional selectivity of abnormalities, as well as their relationship with molecular variables of the FMR1 gene, has not been investigated. In this study, we used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to study male premutation carriers with and without FXTAS and healthy gender-matched controls. We performed a tract of interest analysis for fractional anisotropy (FA), axial and radial diffusivities of major white matter tracts in the cerebellar-brainstem and limbic systems. Compared with healthy controls, patients with FXTAS showed significant reductions of FA in multiple white matter tracts, including the middle cerebellar peduncle (MCP), superior cerebellar peduncle, cerebral peduncle, and the fornix and stria terminalis. Significant reduction of FA in these tracts were confirmed by a voxel-wise analysis using Tract-Based Spatial Statistics. Analysis of axial and radial diffusivities showed significant elevation of these measures in MCP even among premutation carriers without FXTAS. Furthermore, regression analyses demonstrated clear inverted U-shaped relationship between CGG repeat size and axial and radial diffusivities in MCP. These results provide new evidence from DTI for white matter abnormalities in the cerebellar-brainstem and limbic systems among individuals with the fragile X premutation, and suggest the involvement of molecular mechanisms related to the FMR1 gene in their white matter pathology.
DTI; cerebellum; FMR1; FXTAS
Young children with fragile X syndrome (FXS) often experience anxiety, irritability, and hyperactivity related to sensory hyperarousal. However, there are no medication recommendations with documented efficacy for children under 5 years old of age with FXS. We examined data through a chart review for 45 children with FXS, 12–50 months old, using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL) for baseline and longitudinal assessments. All children had clinical level of anxiety, language delays based on MSEL scores, and similar early learning composite (ELC) scores at their first visit to our clinic. Incidence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was similar in both groups. There were 11 children who were treated with sertraline, and these patients were retrospectively compared to 34 children who were not treated with sertraline by chart review. The baseline assessments were done at ages ranging from 18 to 44 months (mean 26.9, SD 7.99) and from 12 to 50 months (mean 29.94, SD 8.64) for treated and not treated groups, respectively. Mean rate of improvement in both expressive and receptive language development was significantly higher in the group who was treated with sertraline (P < 0.0001 and P = 0.0071, resp.). This data supports the need for a controlled trial of sertraline treatment in young children with FXS.
The high frequency of the fragile X premutation in the general population and its emerging neurocognitive implications highlight the need to investigate the effects of the premutation on lifespan cognitive development. Until recently, cognitive function in fragile X premutation carriers (fXPCs) was presumed to be unaffected by the mutation. Here we show that young adult female fXPCs show subtle, yet significant, age- and FMR1 gene mutation-modulated cognitive impairments as tested by a quantitative magnitude comparison task. Our results begin to define the neurocognitive endophenotype associated with the premutation in adults, who are at risk for developing a neurodegenerative disorder associated with the fragile X premutation. Results from the present study may potentially be applied toward the design of early interventions wherein we might be able to target premutation carriers most at risk for degeneration for preventive treatment.
fragile X premutation carrier; adult; women; parietal lobe; magnitude; numerical; spatial
Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome is a neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects older male premutation carriers of the fragile X mental retardation gene. Although its core symptoms are mainly characterized by motor problems such as intention tremor and gait ataxia, cognitive decline and psychiatric problems are also commonly observed. Past radiological and histological approaches have focused on prominent neurodegenerative changes in specific brain structures including the cerebellum and limbic areas. However, quantitative investigations of the regional structural abnormalities have not been performed over the whole brain. In this study, we adopted the voxel-based morphometry method together with regions of interest analysis for the cerebellum to examine the pattern of regional grey matter change in the male premutation carriers with and without fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome. In a comparison with healthy controls, we found striking grey matter loss of the patients with fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome in multiple regions over the cortical and subcortical structures. In the cerebellum, the anterior lobe and the superior posterior lobe were profoundly reduced in both vermis and hemispheres. In the cerebral cortex, clusters of highly significant grey matter reduction were found in the extended areas in the medial surface of the brain, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and precuneus. The other prominent grey matter loss was found in the lateral prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala and insula. Although the voxel-wise comparison between the asymptomatic premutation group and healthy controls did not reach significant difference, a regions of interest analysis revealed significant grey matter reduction in anterior subregions of the cerebellar vermis and hemisphere in the asymptomatic premutation group. Correlation analyses using behavioural scales of the premutation groups showed significant associations between grey matter loss in the left amygdala and increased levels of obsessive–compulsiveness and depression, and between decreased grey matter in the left inferior frontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex and poor working memory performance. Furthermore, regression analyses revealed a significant negative effect of CGG repeat size on grey matter density in the dorsomedial frontal regions. A significant negative correlation with the clinical scale for the severity of fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome was found in a part of the vermis. These observations reveal the anatomical patterns of the neurodegenerative process that underlie the motor, cognitive and psychiatric problems of fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome, together with incipient structural abnormalities that may occur before the clinical onset of this disease.
fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome; movement disorder; voxel based morphometry; cerebellum; atrophy
Conscious visual perception of the constantly changing environment is one of the brain’s most critical functions. In virtually every moment of every daily activity, the visual system is confronted with the task of accurately representing and interpreting scenes that change rapidly over time. Adults can judge the identity and order of changing images presented at a rate of up to 10 Hz (~50 ms per image); this limit reflects a finite temporal resolution of attention. In the research reported here, although 6- to 15-month-old infants could detect the presence of rapid flicker without difficulty, their ability to segment individual alternating states within the flicker was severely limited: Fifteen-month-old infants had a temporal resolution of attention approximately one order of magnitude lower than that of adults (~1 Hz). Coarse temporal resolution constrains how infants perceive and utilize dynamic visual information and may play a role in the visual processing deficits found in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.
temporal individuation; Gestalt flicker fusion; contrast sensitivity
Premutation alleles of the fragile X mental retardation 1 gene (FMR1) are associated with the risk of developing fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS), a late-onset neurodegenerative disorder that involves neuropsychiatric problems and executive and memory deficits. Although abnormal elevation of FMR1 mRNA has been proposed to underlie these deficits, it remains unknown which brain regions are affected by the disease process of FXTAS and genetic molecular mechanisms associated with the FMR1 premutation. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify deficient neural substrates responsible for altered executive and memory functions in some FMR1 premutation individuals. We measured fMRI BOLD signals during the performance of verbal working memory from 15 premutation carriers affected by FXTAS (PFX+), 15 premutation carriers unaffected by FXTAS (PFX−), and 12 matched healthy control individuals (HC). We also examined correlation between brain activation and FMR1 molecular variables (CGG repeat size and mRNA levels) in premutation carriers. Compared with HC, PFX+ and PFX− showed reduced activation in the right ventral inferior frontal cortex and left premotor/dorsal inferior frontal cortex. Reduced activation specific to PFX+ was found in the right premotor/dorsal inferior frontal cortex. Regression analysis combining the two premutation groups demonstrated significant negative correlation between the right ventral inferior frontal cortex activity and the levels of FMR1 mRNA after excluding the effect of disease severity of FXTAS. These results indicate altered prefrontal cortex activity that may underline executive and memory deficits affecting some individuals with FMR1 premutation including FXTAS patients.
Previous functional MRI (fMRI) studies have shown that fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) fragile X premutation allele carriers (FXPCs) exhibit decreased hippocampal activation during a recall task and lower inferior frontal activation during a working memory task compared to matched controls. The molecular characteristics of FXPCs includes 55–200 CGG trinucleotide expansions, increased FMR1 mRNA levels, and decreased FMRP levels especially at higher repeat sizes. In the current study, we utilized MRI to examine differences in hippocampal volume and function during an encoding task in young male FXPCs. While no decreases in either hippocampal volume or hippocampal activity were observed during the encoding task in FXPCs, FMRP level (measured in blood) correlated with decreases in parahippocampal activation. In addition, activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during correctly encoded trials correlated negatively with mRNA levels. These results, as well as the established biological effects associated with elevated mRNA levels and decreased FMRP levels on dendritic maturation and axonal growth, prompted us to explore functional connectivity between the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and parahippocampal gyrus using a psychophysiological interaction analysis. In FXPCs, the right hippocampus evinced significantly lower connectivity with right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) and right parahippocampal gyrus. Furthermore, the weaker connectivity between the right hippocampus and VLPFC was associated with reduced FMRP in the FXPC group. These results suggest that while FXPCs show relatively typical brain response during encoding, faulty connectivity between frontal and hippocampal regions may have subsequent effects on recall and working memory.
fragile X premutation; memory; prefrontal cortex; psychophysiological interaction analysis
A previous study reported enhanced psychomotor speed, and subtle but significant cognitive impairments, modulated by age and by mutations in the fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene in adult female fragile X premutation carriers (fXPCs). Because male carriers, unlike females, do not have a second, unaffected FMR1 allele, male fXPCs should exhibit similar, if not worse, impairments. Understanding male fXPCs is of particular significance because of their increased risk of developing fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS).
Male fXPCs (n = 18) and healthy control (HC) adults (n = 26) aged less than 45 years performed two psychomotor speed tasks (manual and oral) and two visuospatial tasks (magnitude comparison and enumeration). In the magnitude comparison task, participants were asked to compare and judge which of two bars was larger. In the enumeration task, participants were shown between one and eight green bars in the center of the screen, and asked to state the total number displayed. Enumeration typically proceeds in one of two modes: subitizing, a fast and accurate process that works only with a small set of items, and counting, which requires accurate serial-object detection and individuation during visual search. We examined the associations between the performance on all tasks and the age, full-scale intelligent quotient, and CGG repeat length of participants.
We found that in the magnitude comparison and enumeration tasks, male fXPCs exhibited slower reaction times relative to HCs, even after controlling for simple reaction time.
Our results indicate that male fXPCs as a group show impairments (slower reaction times) in numerical visuospatial tasks, which are consistent with previous findings. This adds to a growing body of literature characterizing the phenotype in fXPCs who are asymptomatic for FXTAS. Future longitudinal studies are needed to determine how these impairments relate to risk of developing FXTAS.
X-linked genetic disease; Psychomotor performance; FMR1
Conscious awareness of objects in the visual periphery is limited. This limit is not entirely the result of reduced visual acuity, but is primarily caused by crowding—the inability to identify an object when surrounded by clutter. Crowding represents a fundamental limitation of the visual system, and has to date been unexplored in infants. Do infants have a fine-grained “spotlight”, similar to adults, or a diffuse “lantern” that sets limits on what they can register in the periphery? An eye-tracking paradigm was designed to psychophysically measure crowding in 6- to 15-month-olds by showing pairs of faces at three eccentricities, in the presence or absence of flankers, and recording infants’ first saccade from central fixation to either face. Results reveal that infants can discriminate faces in the periphery, and flankers impair this ability as close as 3 degrees; the effective spatial resolution of visual perception increased with age but was only half that of adults.
inversion; crowding; attention; peripheral vision; Mooney face
Several groups have recently reported that people with autism may suffer from a deficit in visual motion processing and proposed that these deficits may be related to a general dorsal stream dysfunction. In order to test the dorsal stream deficit hypothesis, we investigated coherent and biological motion perception as well as coherent form perception in a group of adolescents with autism and a group of age-matched typically developing controls. If the dorsal stream hypothesis were true, we would expect to document deficits in both coherent and biological motion processing in this group but find no deficit in coherent form perception. Using the method of constant stimuli and standard psychophysical analysis techniques, we measured thresholds for coherent motion, biological motion and coherent form. We found that adolescents with autism showed reduced sensitivity to both coherent and biological motion but performed as well as age-matched controls during coherent form perception. Correlations between intelligence quotient and task performance, however, appear to drive much of the group difference in coherent motion perception. Differences between groups on coherent motion perception did not remain significant when intelligence quotient was controlled for, but group differences in biological motion perception were more robust, remaining significant even when intelligence quotient differences were accounted for. Additionally, aspects of task performance on the biological motion perception task were related to autism symptomatology. These results do not support a general dorsal stream dysfunction in adolescents with autism but provide evidence of a more complex impairment in higher-level dynamic attentional processes.
autism; visual motion; biological motion; coherent motion; dorsal stream
The high frequency of the fragile X premutation in the general population and its emerging neurocognitive implications highlight the need to investigate the effects of the premutation on lifespan cognitive development. Until recently, cognitive function in fragile X premutation carriers (fXPCs) was presumed to be unaffected by the mutation. Although as a group fXPCs did not differ from healthy controls (HCs), we show that young adult female fXPCs show subtle age- and significant fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene mutation-modulated cognitive function as tested by a basic numerical enumeration task. These results indicate that older women with the premutation and fXPCs with greater CGG repeat lengths were at higher risk for difficulties in the deployment of volitional attention required to count 5–8 items, but spared performance when spatial shifts of attention were minimized to subitize a few (1–3). Results from the current study add to a growing body of evidence that suggests the premutation allele is associated with a subtle phenotype and implies that the cognitive demands necessary for counting are less effectively deployed in female fXPCs compared to HCs.
X-linked genetic disease
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
An object or feature is generally more difficult to identify when other objects are presented nearby, an effect referred to as crowding. Here, we used Mooney faces to examine whether crowding can also occur within and between holistic face representations (C. M. Mooney, 1957). Mooney faces are ideal stimuli for this test because no cues exist to distinguish facial features in a Mooney face; to find any facial feature, such as an eye or a nose, one must first holistically perceive the image as a face. Through a series of six experiments we tested the effect of crowding on Mooney face recognition. Our results demonstrate crowding between and within Mooney faces and fulfill the diagnostic criteria for crowding, including eccentricity dependence and lack of crowding in the fovea, critical flanker spacing consistent with less than half the eccentricity of the target, and inner-outer flanker asymmetry. Further, our results show that recognition of an upright Mooney face is more strongly impaired by upright Mooney face flankers than inverted ones. Taken together, these results suggest crowding can occur selectively between high-level representations of faces and that crowding must occur at multiple levels in the visual system.
peripheral vision; spatial vision; object recognition; inversion; asymmetry
Our visual world is dynamic in nature. The ability to encode, mentally represent, and track an object's identity as it moves across time and space is critical for integrating and maintaining a complete and coherent view of the world. Here we investigated dynamic object processing in typically developing (TD) infants and infants with fragile X syndrome (FXS), a single-gene disorder associated with deficits in dorsal stream functioning. We used the violation of expectation method to assess infants’ visual response to expected versus unexpected outcomes following a brief dynamic (dorsal stream) or static (ventral stream) occlusion event. Consistent with previous reports of deficits in dorsal stream-mediated functioning in individuals with this disorder, these results reveal that, compared to mental age-matched TD infants, infants with FXS could maintain the identity of static, but not dynamic, object information during occlusion. These findings are the first to experimentally evaluate visual object processing skills in infants with FXS, and further support the hypothesis of dorsal stream difficulties in infants with this developmental disorder.
object tracking; occlusion; motion; dorsal/ventral visual streams; attention
Fragile X premutation conditions are associated with a significant degree of psychopathology and thus are of interest to the psychiatrist. Remarkable advances at the molecular level have enhanced our understanding of fragile X premutation disorders.
The authors review the genetic, molecular, neuroimaging, and clinical (systemic, neurologic, and psychiatric) manifestations of the premutation carrier state (55-200 CGG repeats) of the fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene.
Clinical manifestations of psychiatric illness in premutation carriers include cognitive, mood, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders. Fragile X premutation-associated conditions are part of the clinical differential diagnosis of several psychiatric syndromes, particularly in pedigrees with known fragile X syndrome (FXS) cases.
Fragile X-associated psychiatric manifestations serve as a useful model for a molecular genesis of neuropsychiatric illness. Because of the multigenerational expression of fragile X-associated neuropsychiatric illness, there is a prominent role for genetic testing and genetic counseling of patients and their relatives. Genetic testing is confirmatory of the FMR1 premutation and is an essential component of the clinical evaluation. Psychopharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatment of fragile X-associated psychiatric illnesses may improve patient function and assist in adaptation to the burden of a genetic neuropsychiatric illness.
fragile X syndrome; fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS); Primary ovarian insufficiency; Psychiatric co-morbidity; Dementia
Gaze avoidance is a hallmark behavioral feature of fragile X syndrome (FXS), but little is known about whether abnormalities in the visual processing of faces, including disrupted autonomic reactivity, may underlie this behavior. Eye tracking was used to record fixations and pupil diameter while adolescents and young adults with FXS and sex- and age-matched typically developing controls passively viewed photographs of faces containing either a calm, happy, or fearful expression, preceded by a scrambled face matched on luminance. Results provide quantitative evidence for significant differences in gaze patterns and increased pupillary reactivity when individuals with FXS passively view static faces. Such abnormalities have significant implications in terms of understanding causes of gaze avoidance observed in individuals with FXS.
face processing; fragile X syndrome; FMR1 gene; eye tracking; pupil reactivity
Recent studies reveal that young carriers of the fragile X premutation are at increased risk for psychiatric conditions, memory problems and executive deficits. Post mortem and structural MRI studies suggest the hippocampus is preferentially affected by the premutation. The current study utilized magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to explore the relationship between hippocampal structure and function as well as molecular/genetic and psychiatric measures in men with the fragile X premutation. Although the groups did not differ in hippocampal volume, the premutation group showed reduced left hippocampal activation and increased right parietal activation during a recall task relative to controls. These results suggest that brain function underlying memory recall is affected by premutation status. Left hippocampal activation was negatively correlated with both FMR1 mRNA level and psychiatric symptomology in the premutation group. These associations support the theory that increased levels of FMR1 mRNA affect brain function and contribute to psychiatric symptoms.
Fragile X premutation; FMR1 mRNA; Hippocampus; fMRI; Recall; Memory