The atypical social brain network in autism: advances in structural and functional MRI studies

Curr Opin Neurol. 2019 Aug;32(4):617-621. doi: 10.1097/WCO.0000000000000713.


Purpose of review: To review advances in structural and functional MRI studies regarding the neural underpinnings of social atypicalities in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Recent findings: According to the hypothesis that the social brain network, which includes brain regions, such as the amygdala and superior temporal sulcus, may be atypical in ASD, recent structural MRI studies have identified regional gray matter volume abnormalities in the social brain regions in ASD groups compared with the typically developing groups. Studies evaluating gray matter volume covariance and white matter volume/integrity suggested network-level abnormalities associated with the social brain regions. Recent functional MRI studies assessing resting-state neural activity showed reduced functional connectivity among the social brain regions in individuals with ASD compared with typically developing groups. Similarly, task-based functional MRI studies recently revealed a reduction in regional activity and intraregional functional coupling in the social brain regions during the processing of social stimuli in individuals with ASD.

Summary: These structural and functional MRI studies provide supportive evidence for the hypothesis that an atypical social brain network underlies behavioral social problems in ASD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnostic imaging*
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging