Positive effects of neurofeedback on autism symptoms correlate with brain activation during imitation and observation

Eur J Neurosci. 2018 Mar;47(6):579-591. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13551. Epub 2017 Mar 27.


Autism has been characterized by atypical task-related brain activation and functional connections, coinciding with deficits in sociocommunicative abilities. However, evidence of the brain's experience-dependent plasticity suggests that abnormal activity patterns may be reversed with treatment. In particular, neurofeedback training (NFT), an intervention based on operant conditioning resulting in self-regulation of brain electrical oscillations, has shown increasing promise in addressing abnormalities in brain function and behavior. We examined the effects of ≥ 20 h of sensorimotor mu-rhythm-based NFT in children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and a matched control group of typically developing children (ages 8-17). During a functional magnetic resonance imaging imitation and observation task, the ASD group showed increased activation in regions of the human mirror neuron system following the NFT, as part of a significant interaction between group (ASD vs. controls) and training (pre- vs. post-training). These changes were positively correlated with behavioral improvements in the ASD participants, indicating that mu-rhythm NFT may be beneficial to individuals with ASD.

Keywords: Mu-rhythm; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); mirror neuron system; plasticity; sociocommunication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / rehabilitation*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mirror Neurons / physiology
  • Neurofeedback / methods*
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / physiopathology
  • Social Perception*
  • Treatment Outcome