Original article| Volume 62, ISSUE 3, P207-217, August 01, 2007

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An Event Related Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Facial Emotion Processing in Asperger Syndrome


      People with Asperger syndrome (AS) have life-long deficits in social behavior. The biological basis of this is unknown, but most likely includes impaired processing of facial emotion. Human social communication involves processing different facial emotions, and at different intensities. However nobody has examined brain function in people with AS when implicitly (unconsciously) processing four primary emotions at varying emotional intensities.


      We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine neural responses when people with AS and controls implicitly processed neutral expressions, and mild (25%) and intense (100%) expressions of fear, disgust, happiness, and sadness. We included 18 right-handed adults; 9 with AS and 9 healthy controls who did not differ significantly in IQ.


      Both groups significantly activated ‘face perception' areas when viewing neutral faces, including fusiform and extrastriate cortices. Further, both groups had significantly increased activation of fusiform and other extrastriate regions to increasing intensities of fear and happiness. However, people with AS generally showed fusiform and extrastriate hyporesponsiveness compared to controls across emotion types and intensities.


      Fusiform and extrastriate cortices are activated by facial expressions of four primary emotions in people with AS, but generally to a lesser degree than controls. This may partly explain the social impairments of people with AS.

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