The nature of brain dysfunction in autism: functional brain imaging studies

Curr Opin Neurol. 2010 Apr;23(2):124-30. doi: 10.1097/WCO.0b013e32833782d4.


Purpose of review: Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have had a profound impact on the delineation of the neurobiologic basis for autism. Advances in fMRI technology for investigating functional connectivity, resting state connectivity, and a default mode network have provided further detail about disturbances in brain organization and brain-behavior relationships in autism to be reviewed in this article.

Recent findings: Recent fMRI studies have provided evidence of enhanced activation and connectivity of posterior, or parietal-occipital, networks and enhanced reliance on visuospatial abilities for visual and verbal reasoning in high functioning individuals with autism. Evidence also indicates altered activation in frontostriatal networks for cognitive control, particularly involving anterior cingulate cortex, and altered connectivity in the resting state and the default mode network. The findings suggest that the specialization of many cortical networks of the human brain has failed to develop fully in high functioning individuals with autism.

Summary: This research provides a growing specification of to the neurobiologic basis for this complex syndrome and for the co-occurrence of the signs and symptoms as a syndrome. With this knowledge has come new neurobiologically based opportunities for intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology