Autism spectrum traits in the typical population predict structure and function in the posterior superior temporal sulcus.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are typically characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, narrow interests, and repetitive behaviors. The heterogeneity in the severity of these characteristics across individuals with ASD has led some researchers to suggest that these disorders form a continuum which extends into the general, or "typical," population, and there is growing evidence that the extent to which typical adults display autistic traits, as measured using the autism-spectrum quotient (AQ), predicts performance on behavioral tasks that are impaired in ASD. Here, we show that variation in autism spectrum traits is related to cortical structure and function within the typical population. Voxel-based morphometry showed that increased AQ scores were associated with decreased white matter volume in the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), a region important in processing socially relevant stimuli and associated with structural and functional impairments in ASD. In addition, AQ was correlated with the extent of cortical deactivation of an adjacent area of pSTS during a Stroop task relative to rest, reflecting variation in resting state function. The results provide evidence that autism spectrum characteristics are reflected in neural structure and function across the typical (non-ASD) population.
von dem Hagen, Elisabeth; Nummenmaa, Lauri; Yu, R; Engell, Andrew; Ewbank, Michael; and Calder, Andy, "Autism spectrum traits in the typical population predict structure and function in the posterior superior temporal sulcus." (2011). Cerebral Cortex 21(3): 493-500. Faculty Publications. Paper 63.