Original article| Volume 49, ISSUE 8, P665-676, April 15, 2001

Atypical patterns of cerebral motor activation in autism: a functional magnetic resonance study

  • Ralph-Axel Müller
    Address reprint requests to Ralph-Axel Müller, Ph.D., Children’s Hospital Research Center, Laboratory for the Neuroscience of Autism, 8110 La Jolla Shores Dr. #200, La Jolla CA 92037
    Laboratory for the Neuroscience of Autism, Children’s Hospital Research Center, La Jolla, California, USA (R-AM, KP, JBA, EC)

    Department of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego, California, USA (R-AM)
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  • Karen Pierce
    Laboratory for the Neuroscience of Autism, Children’s Hospital Research Center, La Jolla, California, USA (R-AM, KP, JBA, EC)

    Department of Neurosciences (KP, EC), University of California, San Diego, USA
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  • Josiah B Ambrose
    Laboratory for the Neuroscience of Autism, Children’s Hospital Research Center, La Jolla, California, USA (R-AM, KP, JBA, EC)
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  • Greg Allen
    Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego State University and University of California (GA), San Diego, California, USA
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  • Eric Courchesne
    Laboratory for the Neuroscience of Autism, Children’s Hospital Research Center, La Jolla, California, USA (R-AM, KP, JBA, EC)

    Department of Neurosciences (KP, EC), University of California, San Diego, USA
    Search for articles by this author


      Background: Early neurodevelopmental pathogenesis in autism potentially affects emerging functional maps, but little imaging evidence is available.
      Methods: We studied eight male autistic and eight matched normal subjects, using functional magnetic resonance imaging during visually paced finger movement, compared to a control condition (visual stimulation in the absence of motor response).
      Results: Groupwise analyses showed activation in contralateral perirolandic cortex, basal ganglia, and thalamus, bilateral supplementary motor area, and ipsilateral cerebellum for both groups. However, activations were less pronounced in the autism group. Direct group comparisons demonstrated greater activation in perirolandic and supplementary motor areas in the control group and greater activation (or reduced deactivation) in posterior and prefrontal cortices in the autism group. Intraindividual analyses further showed that strongest activations were consistently located along the contralateral central sulcus in control subjects but occurred in locations differing from individual to individual in the autism group.
      Conclusions: Our findings, though based on a rather small sample, suggest abnormal individual variability of functional maps and less distinct regional activation/deactivation patterns in autism. The observations may relate to known motor impairments in autism and are compatible with the general hypothesis of disturbances of functional differentiation in the autistic cerebrum.


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