Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UCLA imaging study of children with autism finds broken mirror neuron system


Findings pinpoint mechanism behind social deficits

New imaging research at UCLA detailed Dec. 4 as an advance online publication of the journal Nature Neuroscience shows children with autism have virtually no activity in a key part of the brain’s mirror neuron system while imitating and observing emotions.
Mirror neurons fire when a person performs a goal-directed action and while he or she observes the same action performed by others. Neuroscientists believe this observation-execution matching system provides a neural mechanism by which others’ actions, intentions and emotions can be understood automatically.

Symptoms of autism include difficulties with social interaction -- including verbal and nonverbal communication -- imitation and empathy. The new findings dramatically bolster a growing body of evidence pointing to a breakdown of the brain’s mirror neuron system as the mechanism behind these autism symptoms.

"Our findings suggest that a dysfunctional mirror neuron system may underlie the social deficits observed in autism," said Mirella Dapretto, lead author and assistant professor in residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Together with other recent data, our results provide strong support for a mirror neuron theory of autism. This is exciting because we finally have an account that can explain all core symptoms of this disorder."

Conducted at the Semel Institute’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, the research used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity in 10 high-functioning children with autism while they imitated and observed 80 photos depicting different emotions such as anger, fear, happiness or sadness. In addition, the brain activity of 10 typically developing children was studied while performing the same tasks.

Separately, symptom severity of each child with autism was tested using two independent measures (the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule -- Generic, and the Autism Diagnostic Interview).

The study shows that unlike typically developing children, children with autism have virtually no activity in the pars opercularis of the inferior frontal gyrus, identified by previous research as a key part of the mirror neuron system. Importantly, the level of mirror neuron activity seen in children with autism was inversely related to symptom severity in the social domain.

Children with autism also showed reduced activity in the emotion centers of the brain, consistent with the hypothesis that this mirroring mechanism may play a crucial role for understanding how others feel and for empathizing with them.

All of the children rehearsed the tasks prior to the fMRI scans to assure researchers they could perform the tasks. Both groups performed equally well. Normal brain activity in areas of the brain involving sight and facial movements indicated that the children with autism remained on task during the fMRI scans.

Dan Page | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Advanced analysis of brain structure shape may track progression to Alzheimer's disease
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts General Hospital

nachricht Indian roadside refuse fires produce toxic rainbow
26.10.2016 | Duke University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>