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Developmental differences in neural connectivity for semantic processing in youths with autism


Fan LYLi-Ying , Booth JRJames R , Liu MMin , Chou TLTai-Li , Gau SSSusan Shur-Fen . Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines. 2021 02 04; 62(9). 1090-1099


BACKGROUND: Youths with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) rely more on lower-level visual processing as revealed by greater occipital activation, yet less effectively engage higher-level processing of modality-independent semantic knowledge as indicated by reduced frontal activation, compared to typically developing (TD) youths. However, little is known about age-dependent differences in neural connectivity during semantic processing in youths with ASD as compared to TD youths.

METHODS: Four groups were recruited: 31 ASD children (mean age = 10.5 years old), 33 TD children (mean age = 10.4), 30 ASD adolescents (mean age = 14.9), and 34 TD adolescents (mean age = 15.1). We explored their differences in neural connectivity by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with psychophysiological interaction (PPI) during semantic judgments.

RESULTS: In comparison with TD children, children with ASD showed greater activation in the left cuneus and weaker connectivity between the left cuneus and left middle temporal gyrus (MTG). In comparison with TD adolescents, adolescents with ASD showed less activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and weaker functional connectivity between the left IFG and left MTG.

CONCLUSIONS: Children with ASD may rely more on visual processes in the occipital cortex that are disconnected from modality-independent semantics in the temporal cortex. However, adolescents with ASD may less effectively engage frontal mechanisms involved in the top-down control of modality-independent semantic knowledge in the temporal cortex. Our findings provide evidence of developmental differences in the neural substrates of the alterations in semantic processing in youths with ASD compared to TD youths.