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Autism Research and Treatment
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 652408, 12 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/652408
Research Article

Atypical Functional Connectivity of the Amygdala in Childhood Autism Spectrum Disorders during Spontaneous Attention to Eye-Gaze

1Department of Psychology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA
2Children’s Research Institute, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC 20010, USA

Received 6 March 2012; Revised 2 November 2012; Accepted 12 November 2012

Academic Editor: Klaus-Peter Ossenkopp

Copyright © 2012 Eric R. Murphy et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

We examined functional connectivity of the amygdala in preadolescent children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) during spontaneous attention to eye-gaze in emotional faces. Children responded to a target word (“LEFT/RIGHT”) printed on angry or fearful faces looking in a direction that was congruent, incongruent, or neutral with the target word. Despite being irrelevant to the task, gaze-direction facilitated (Congruent > Neutral) or interfered with (Incongruent > Congruent) performance in both groups. Despite similar behavioral performance, amygdala-connectivity was atypical and more widespread in children with ASD. In control children, the amygdala was more strongly connected with an emotional cognitive control region (subgenual cingulate) during interference, while during facilitation, no regions showed greater amygdala connectivity than in ASD children. In contrast, in children with ASD the amygdala was more strongly connected to salience and cognitive control regions (posterior and dorsal cingulate) during facilitation and with regions involved in gaze processing (superior temporal sulcus), cognitive control (inferior frontal gyrus), and processing of viscerally salient information (pregenual cingulate, anterior insula, and thalamus) during interference. These findings showing more widespread connectivity of the amygdala extend past findings of atypical functional anatomy of eye-gaze processing in children with ASD and challenge views of general underconnectivity in ASD.