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Autistic adolescents show atypical activation of the brain's mentalizing system even without a prior history of mentalizing problems.

White, S; Frith, U; Rellecke, J; Al-Noor, Z; Gilbert, SJ; (2014) Autistic adolescents show atypical activation of the brain's mentalizing system even without a prior history of mentalizing problems. Neuropsychologia , 56 pp. 17-25. 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.12.013. Green open access

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Abstract

Some autistic children pass classic Theory of Mind (ToM) tasks that others fail, but the significance of this finding is at present unclear. We identified two such groups of primary school age (labelled ToM+ and ToM-) and a matched comparison group of typically developing children (TD). Five years later we tested these participants again on a ToM test battery appropriate for adolescents and conducted an fMRI study with a story based ToM task. We also assessed autistic core symptoms at these two time points. At both times the ToM- group showed more severe social communication impairments than the ToM+ group, and while showing an improvement in mentalizing performance, they continued to show a significant impairment compared to the NT group. Two independent ROI analyses of the BOLD signal showed activation of the mentalizing network including medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate and lateral temporal cortices. Strikingly, both ToM+ and ToM- groups showed very similar patterns of heightened activation in comparison with the NT group. No differences in other brain regions were apparent. Thus, autistic adolescents who do not have a history of mentalizing problems according to our ToM battery showed the same atypical neurophysiological response during mentalizing as children who did have such a history. This finding indicates that heterogeneity at the behavioural level may nevertheless map onto a similar phenotype at the neuro-cognitive level.

Type: Article
Title: Autistic adolescents show atypical activation of the brain's mentalizing system even without a prior history of mentalizing problems.
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.12.013
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013....
Additional information: © 2013TheAuthors.Published by Elsevier Ltd.All rights reserved. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Keywords: Autism, Development, Longitudinal, Social impairment, Theory of mind
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1422642
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