Convergent neuroanatomical and behavioural evidence of an amygdala hypothesis of autism

Neuroreport. 2000 Sep 11;11(13):2931-5. doi: 10.1097/00001756-200009110-00020.


In this study we report a convergence of behavioural and neuroanatomical evidence in support of an amygdala hypothesis of autism. We find that people with high-functioning autism (HFA) show neuropsychological profiles characteristic of the effects of amygdala damage, in particular selective impairment in the recognition of facial expressions of fear, perception of eye-gaze direction, and recognition memory for faces. Using quantitative magnetic resonance (MR) image analysis techniques, we find that the same individuals also show abnormalities of medial temporal lobe (MTL) brain structure, notably bilaterally enlarged amygdala volumes. These results combine to suggest that developmental malformation of the amygdala may underlie the social-cognitive impairments characteristic of HFA. This malformation may reflect incomplete neuronal pruning in early development.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / abnormalities
  • Amygdala / pathology*
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Expressed Emotion / physiology
  • Facial Expression
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / pathology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Social Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / pathology*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / physiopathology