Abnormal functional specialization within medial prefrontal cortex in high-functioning autism: a multi-voxel similarity analysis.
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Multi-voxel pattern analyses have proved successful in decoding mental states from fMRI data, but have not been used to examine brain differences associated with atypical populations. We investigated a group of 16 (14 males) high-functioning participants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 16 non-autistic control participants (12 males) performing two tasks (spatial/verbal) previously shown to activate medial rostral prefrontal cortex (mrPFC). Each task manipulated: (i) attention towards perceptual versus self-generated information and (ii) reflection on another persons mental state (mentalizingversus non-mentalizing) in a 2 2 design. Behavioral performance and group-level fMRI results were similar between groups. However, multi-voxel similarity analyses revealed strong differences. In control participants, the spatial distribution of activity generalized significantly between task contexts (spatial/verbal) when examining the same function (attention/mentalizing) but not when comparing different functions. This pattern was disrupted in the ASD group, indicating abnormal functional specialization within mrPFC, and demonstrating the applicability of multi-voxel pattern analysis to investigations of atypical populations.
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