Look me in the eyes: constraining gaze in the eye-region provokes abnormally high subcortical activation in autism

Hadjikhani, N., Åsberg Johnels, J., Zürcher, N. R., Lassalle, A., Guillon, Q., Hippolyte, L., Billstedt, E., Ward, N., Lemonnier, E. and Gillberg, C. (2017) Look me in the eyes: constraining gaze in the eye-region provokes abnormally high subcortical activation in autism. Scientific Reports, 7, 3163. (doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-03378-5) (PMID:28600558) (PMCID:PMC5466661)

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Abstract

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) seem to have difficulties looking others in the eyes, but the substrate for this behavior is not well understood. The subcortical pathway, which consists of superior colliculus, pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus, and amygdala, enables rapid and automatic face processing. A specific component of this pathway – i.e., the amygdala – has been shown to be abnormally activated in paradigms where individuals had to specifically attend to the eye-region; however, a direct examination of the effect of manipulating the gaze to the eye-regions on all the components of the subcortical system altogether has never been performed. The subcortical system is particularly important as it shapes the functional specialization of the face-processing cortex during development. Using functional MRI, we investigated the effect of constraining gaze in the eye-region during dynamic emotional face perception in groups of participants with ASD and typical controls. We computed differences in activation in the subcortical face processing system (superior colliculus, pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus and amygdala) for the same stimuli seen freely or with the gaze constrained in the eye-region. Our results show that when constrained to look in the eyes, individuals with ASD show abnormally high activation in the subcortical system, which may be at the basis of their eye avoidance in daily life.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Gillberg, Professor Christopher
Authors: Hadjikhani, N., Åsberg Johnels, J., Zürcher, N. R., Lassalle, A., Guillon, Q., Hippolyte, L., Billstedt, E., Ward, N., Lemonnier, E., and Gillberg, C.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
Journal Name:Scientific Reports
Publisher:Nature Research
ISSN:2045-2322
ISSN (Online):2045-2322
Published Online:09 June 2017
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 The Authors
First Published:First published in Scientific Reports 7:3163
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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