Relationship between cingulo-insular functional connectivity and autistic traits in neurotypical adults

Am J Psychiatry. 2009 Aug;166(8):891-9. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.08121894. Epub 2009 Jul 15.


Objective: The Social Responsiveness Scale-Adult Version (SRS-A) measures autistic traits that are continuously distributed in the general population. Based on increased recognition of the dimensional nature of autistic traits, the authors examined the neural correlates of these traits in neurotypical individuals using the SRS-A and established a novel approach to assessing the neural basis of autistic characteristics, attempting to directly relate SRS-A scores to patterns of functional connectivity observed in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, a region commonly implicated in social cognition.

Method: Resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging scans were collected for 25 neurotypical adults. All participants provided SRS-A ratings completed by an informant who had observed them in natural social settings. Whole brain-corrected connectivity analyses were then conducted using SRS-A scores as a covariate of interest.

Results: Across participants, a significant negative relationship between SRS-A scores and the functional connectivity of the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex with the anterior portion of the mid-insula was found. Specifically, low levels of autistic traits were observed when a substantial portion of the anterior mid-insula showed positive connectivity with the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex. In contrast, elevated levels of autistic traits were associated with negative connectivity between these two regions.

Conclusions: Resting state functional connectivity of the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex-insula social network was related to autistic traits in neurotypical adults. Application of this approach in samples with autism spectrum disorders is needed to confirm whether this circuit is dimensionally related to the severity of autistic traits in clinical populations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Rest / physiology
  • Severity of Illness Index