Reduced Prefrontal Cortical Responses and Atypical Connectivity to Join Attention in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study

Saturday, May 16, 2015: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
H. Zhu1, J. Li2, Y. Fan3, X. Li4, D. Huang5 and S. He6, (1)Panyu District, Centre for Optical & Electromagnetic Research, School of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China, (2)Centre for Optical and Electromagnetic Research, ZJU-SCNU Joint Research Center of Photonics, South China Normal University (SCNU), Guangzhou, 510006, P. R. China, Guangzhou, China, (3)Guangzhou Cana School, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, (4)School of Psychology, Guangzhou, China, (5)Guangzhou Cana School, Guangzhou, China, (6)School of Electrical Engineering, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden
Background:  Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental disorder, characterized by impairments in one’s capacity for joint attention. Joint attention is a process whereby two individuals share the focus of attention on the same object or event as one is following the gaze or pointing gestures of the other. This is critical for the development of social, language and cognitive abilities, so the neuroimaging studies of joint attention were crucial for understanding autism spectrum disorder deeply

Objectives:  In this study, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was applied to study the differences in activation and functional connectivity in the prefrontal cortex between children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing (TD) children.

Methods:  20 ASD and 20 TD children were recruited to perform joint and non-joint attention tasks. 8 video clips were made to arouse joint/non-joint attention experience (4 for joint attention and 4 for non-joint attention).  22 fNIRS measurement channels were located at the prefrontal cortex by using 10-20 system. 

Results:  Compared with TD children, children with ASD showed reduced activation and atypical functional connectivity pattern in the prefrontal cortex during joint attention. The analysis of functional connectivity showed that the prefrontal cortex of TD children exhibited a much more obvious lateralization to the left hemisphere during joint attention than non-joint attention, manifesting as reduced interhemispheric correlation in term of strength as well as correlation maps when the seed was located in the left prefrontal cortex. However, children with ASD did not show any similar pattern. 

Conclusions:  The atypical development of left prefrontal cortex might play an important role in social cognition defects of children with ASD.