Neuroanatomical and neurofunctional markers of social cognition in autism spectrum disorder

Hum Brain Mapp. 2016 Nov;37(11):3957-3978. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23288.


Social impairments in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a hallmark feature of its diagnosis, may underlie specific neural signatures that can aid in differentiating between those with and without ASD. To assess common and consistent patterns of differences in brain responses underlying social cognition in ASD, this study applied an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis to results from 50 neuroimaging studies of social cognition in children and adults with ASD. In addition, the group ALE clusters of activation obtained from this was used as a social brain mask to perform surface-based cortical morphometry (SBM) in an empirical structural MRI dataset collected from 55 ASD and 60 typically developing (TD) control participants. Overall, the ALE meta-analysis revealed consistent differences in activation in the posterior superior temporal sulcus at the temporoparietal junction, middle frontal gyrus, fusiform face area (FFA), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), amygdala, insula, and cingulate cortex between ASD and TD individuals. SBM analysis showed alterations in the thickness, volume, and surface area in individuals with ASD in STS, insula, and FFA. Increased cortical thickness was found in individuals with ASD, the IFG. The results of this study provide functional and anatomical bases of social cognition abnormalities in ASD by identifying common signatures from a large pool of neuroimaging studies. These findings provide new insights into the quest for a neuroimaging-based marker for ASD. Hum Brain Mapp 37:3957-3978, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: activation likelihood estimation; autism; brain; meta-analysis; neuroimaging; social brain; social cognition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnostic imaging*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Social Behavior*