Autism is a neurodevelopmental syndrome characterized by impaired social and executive functions. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a non-invasive technique that allows investigation of the neural networks underlying cognitive impairments in autism. In this article, brain imaging studies investigating the functional brain anatomy of autism are reviewed. Face recognition, theory of mind and executive functions have all been explored in functional neuroimaging studies involving autistic patients. The available literature suggests an involvement of abnormal functional mechanisms in face recognition, mentalization and executive functions in adults with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome, possibly due to brain maturation abnormalities, and resulting in dysfunctional reciprocal cortico-subcortical connections. Future functional neuroimaging research should investigate subgroups of autistic children and adolescents longitudinally and attempt to integrate genetic, cognitive and empirical approaches. Such studies will be instrumental in furthering understanding of the pathophysiology of autism and in exploring the importance of dimensional measures of the broader phenotype currently defined as autism.