Limbic circuitry in patients with autism spectrum disorders studied with positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging

Am J Psychiatry. 2000 Dec;157(12):1994-2001. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.157.12.1994.


Objective: Cytoarchitectonic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus, subiculum, entorhinal cortex, amygdala, mammillary bodies, and septum were reported in a postmortem study of autism. Previously, the authors found smaller cingulate volume and decreased metabolism of the cingulate in seven autistic patients. In this study, they measured the volume and glucose metabolism of the amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus in an expanded group of 17 patients with autism spectrum disorders (autism [N=10] or Asperger's disorder [N=7]) and 17 age- and sex-matched healthy volunteers.

Method: Subjects performed a serial verbal learning test during (18)F-deoxyglucose uptake. The amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus were outlined on magnetic resonance imaging scans, volumes of the structures were applied to matching coregistered positron emission tomography scans, and three-dimensional significance probability mapping was performed.

Results: Significant metabolic reductions in both the anterior and posterior cingulate gyri were visualized in the patients with autism spectrum disorders. Both Asperger's and autism patients had relative glucose hypometabolism in the anterior and posterior cingulate as confirmed by analysis of variance; regional differences were also found with three-dimensional significance probability mapping. No group differences were found in either the metabolism or the volume of the amygdala or the hippocampus. However, patients with autism spectrum disorders showed reduced volume of the right anterior cingulate gyrus, specifically in Brodmann's area 24'.

Conclusions: Compared with age- and sex-matched healthy volunteers, patients with autism spectrum disorders showed significantly decreased metabolism in both the anterior and posterior cingulate gyri.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / anatomy & histology
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Asperger Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Asperger Syndrome / diagnostic imaging
  • Asperger Syndrome / metabolism
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Gyrus Cinguli / anatomy & histology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / anatomy & histology
  • Limbic System / diagnostic imaging
  • Limbic System / metabolism*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology


  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Glucose