People with Williams syndrome-known for their indiscriminate friendliness and ease with strangers-process spoken language differently from people with autism spectrum disorders-characterized by social withdrawal and isolation-found researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Their findings, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, will help to generate more specific hypotheses regarding language perception and processing in both Williams syndrome and autism spectrum disorders, as well as the core mechanisms involved in the development of communication and social skills.
"Spoken language is probably the most important form of social interaction between people and, maybe not surprisingly, we found that the way the brain processes language mirrors the contrasting social phenotypes of Williams syndrome and autism spectrum disorders," says lead author Inna Fishman, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Salk, who conceived the study together with Debra Mills, Ph.D., currently a reader at Bangor University in UK.
Autism spectrum disorders and Williams syndrome are both neurodevelopmental disorders but their manifestations couldn't be more different: While autistic individuals live in a world where objects make much more sense than people do, people with Williams syndrome are social butterflies who bask in other people's attention.
Despite myriad health problems, generally low IQs and severe spatial problems, people with Williams syndrome are irresistibly drawn to strangers, look intently at people's faces, remember names and faces with ease, and are colorful and skillful storytellers.
"The discrepancy between their language ability and IQ is startling," says co-author Ursula Bellugi, professor and director of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Salk Institute, who has been studying the behavioral aspects of Williams syndrome for more than 20 years. "Children with Williams syndrome have elaborate and rich vocabularies and use very descriptive, affect-rich expressive language, which makes their speech very engaging."
In contrast, many people with autism struggle to learn and use language effectively, especially when talking to other people. Chit-chat and gossip, the social glue that binds people together, mean nothing to them. Although there is considerable variation in linguistic ability-from the absence of functional speech to near normal language skills-deficits in semantic processing, especially interpreting language in context, are common across the whole spectrum of autistic disorders, including Asperger syndrome.
"It is this divide in language skills and use, which mirrors the opposite social profiles, that led us to explore how brains of individuals with Williams syndrome and autistic spectrum disorders process language," says Fishman.
For their study, she and her colleagues compared brain response patterns linked to language processing in individuals with Williams syndrome, autism spectrum disorders and healthy controls. They focused on the so-called N400, a distinct pattern of electrical brain activity that can be measured by electrodes placed on the scalp. Known as ERP or event-related potential, the N400 is part of the normal brain response to words and other meaningful or potentially meaningful stimuli and peaks about 400 milliseconds after the stimulus.
When presented with a typical sentence that finished with an odd ending ("I take my coffee with sugar and shoes"), individuals with Williams syndrome exhibited an abnormally large N400 response indicating that they are particularly sensitive and attuned to semantic aspects of language. In contrast, individuals with ASD did not show this negativity, suggesting that the inability to integrate lexical information into the ongoing context may underlie their communicative and language impairments. Healthy people fell between those two extremes.
"The N400 reflects the cognitive demand incurred by the integration of a meaningful stimulus such as a word into a more general semantic context such as a sentence," explains Fishman. The smaller N400 effect found in the ASD group suggests that they make less use of contextual information, which makes it harder for them to grasp the meaning of words.
"Our results suggest that language skills, or their brain correlates, go hand-in-hand with the level of sociability, potentially mediating the likelihood of interaction and communication with others," she says. In fact, Fishman and her colleagues have preliminary data supporting this association between the sociability and the magnitude of one's N400 response, among individuals with WS.
To gain a better understanding of the neural and genetic correlates of social behavior in different social phenotypes Bellugi's team is now integrating these findings with the exquisitely mapped genetic profile of Williams syndrome. They hypothesize that specific genes in the Williams syndrome region may be involved in the dysregulation of specific neuropeptide and hormonal systems, which could explain the observed hypersocial behavior.
Researchers who also contributed to the work include A. Yam, a former research assistant at the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience, and Alan Lincoln, Ph.D., professor at the Alliant International University in San Diego.
The work was funded in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.
The Salk Institute proudly celebrates five decades of scientific excellence in basic research.
Gina Kirchweger | Newswise Science News
25.09.2018 | Medical University of South Carolina
Artificial intelligence to improve drug combination design & personalized medicine
25.09.2018 | SLAS (Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening)
The Fraunhofer FEP has been involved in developing processes and equipment for cleaning, sterilization, and surface modification for decades. The CleanHand Network for development of systems and technologies to clean surfaces, materials, and objects was established in May 2018 to bundle the expertise of many partnering organizations. As a partner in the CleanHand Network, Fraunhofer FEP will present the Network and current research topics of the Institute in the field of hygiene and cleaning at the parts2clean trade fair, October 23-25, 2018 in Stuttgart, at the booth of the Fraunhofer Cleaning Technology Alliance (Hall 5, Booth C31).
Test reports and studies on the cleanliness of European motorway rest areas, hotel beds, and outdoor pools increasingly appear in the press, especially during...
The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.
This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.
Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...
Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.
"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...
A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.
Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...
Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.
21.09.2018 | Event News
03.09.2018 | Event News
27.08.2018 | Event News
25.09.2018 | Health and Medicine
25.09.2018 | Health and Medicine
25.09.2018 | Information Technology