Response inhibition, or the suppression of prepotent, but contextually inappropriate behaviors, is essential to adaptive, flexible responding. In autism spectrum disorders (ASD), difficulty inhibiting prepotent behaviors may contribute to restricted, repetitive behavior (RRB). Individuals with ASD consistently show deficient response inhibition while performing antisaccades, which require one to inhibit the prepotent response of looking towards a suddenly appearing stimulus (i.e., a prosaccade), and to substitute a gaze in the opposite direction. Here, we used fMRI to identify the neural correlates of this deficit. We focused on two regions that are critical for saccadic inhibition: the frontal eye field (FEF), the key cortical region for generating volitional saccades, and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), which is thought to exert top-down control on the FEF. We also compared ASD and control groups on the functional connectivity of the dACC and FEF during saccadic performance. In the context of an increased antisaccade error rate, ASD participants showed decreased functional connectivity of the FEF and dACC and decreased inhibition-related activation (based on the contrast of antisaccades and prosaccades) in both regions. Decreased dACC activation correlated with a higher error rate in both groups, consistent with a role in top-down control. Within the ASD group, increased FEF activation and dACC/FEF functional connectivity were associated with more severe RRB. These findings demonstrate functional abnormalities in a circuit critical for volitional ocular motor control in ASD that may contribute to deficient response inhibition and to RRB. More generally, our findings suggest reduced cognitive control over behavior by the dACC in ASD.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.