Year of Publication

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Medicine

Department

Anatomy and Neurobiology

First Advisor

Paul Glaser

Second Advisor

Jane Joseph

Abstract

During normal development, face processing involves a gradual shift from a featurally oriented style to a mature configural style by adolescence. This shift may coincide with increased right hemispheric dominance for faces supporting configural processing. Previous studies suggest that individuals diagnosed with ASD continue to process faces using individual parts and features into adulthood. This continued bias may be due to deficits in configural processing abilities. The current study investigated measures of functional connectivity during featural and configural processing of faces in broad autism phenotype sibling (ASD-sibs) children compared to age, sex, and handedness matched normal developing (ND) controls and in children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder compared to ASD-matched ND controls. Results indicate that children with ASD and ASD-sibs were capable of performing configural processing tasks at similar performance levels to those of ND children. Additionally, patterns of functional network connectivity for configural processing in ASD-sibs were similar to those observed in ND controls. Few network-wide hemispheric differences emerged between groups. While behavioral performance and overall network-wide patterns of connectivity suggest a face processing network that is capable of supporting configural processing in ASD and ASD-sibs, abnormalities were observed in specific regions. The amygdala and fusiform face area showed fewer interactions with the rest of the face processing network in ASD children compared to ND during configural, but not featural processing. Additionally, hemispheric comparisons show greater differences between ASD and ND controls in the right fusiform face area. The ability of these regions to communicate with other regions in the face network could be important for social motivation and attention during configural processing. Interestingly, network connectivity in ASD children during passive viewing of faces, objects, and textures without featural or configural manipulations showed a more functionally integrated, and less segregated network with a lower “wiring cost” during non-face conditions compared to ND children. ASD-sibs may demonstrate a similar milder pattern.

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