Neural responses to emotional expression information in high- and low-spatial frequency in autism. Evidence for a cortical dysfunction


Despite an overall consensus that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) entails atypical processing of human faces and emotional expressions, the role of neural structures involved in early facial processing remains unresolved. An influential model for the neurotypical brain suggests that face processing in the fusiform gyrus and the amygdala is based on both high-spatial frequency (HSF) information carried by a parvocellular pathway, and low-spatial frequency (LSF) information separately conveyed by a magnocellular pathway. Here, we tested the fusiform gyrus and amygdala sensitivity to emotional face information conveyed by these distinct pathways in ASD individuals (and matched Controls). During functional Magnetical Resonance Imaging (fMRI), participants reported the apparent gender of hybrid face stimuli, made by merging two different faces (one in LSF and the other in HSF), out of which one displayed an emotional expression (fearful or happy) and the other was neutral. Controls exhibited increased fusiform activity to hybrid faces with an emotional expression (relative to hybrids composed only with neutral faces), regardless of whether this was conveyed by LSFs or HSFs in hybrid stimuli. ASD individuals showed intact fusiform response to LSF, but not HSF, expressions. Furthermore, the amygdala (and the ventral occipital cortex) was more sensitive to HSF than LSF expressions in Controls, but exhibited an opposite preference in ASD. Our data suggest spared LSF face processing in ASD, while cortical analysis of HSF expression cues appears affected. These findings converge with recent accounts suggesting that ASD might be characterized by a difficulty in integrating multiple local information and cause global processing troubles unexplained by losses in low spatial frequency inputs.

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 8, 189
Corrado Corradi˗Dell'Acqua
Corrado Corradi˗Dell'Acqua
Neuroscientist - Cognitive Psychologist - Data Scientist