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Intuition and autism: a possible role for Von Economo neurons

Allman, John M. and Watson, Karli K. and Tetreault, Nicole A. and Hakeem, Atiya Y. (2005) Intuition and autism: a possible role for Von Economo neurons. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9 (8). pp. 367-373. ISSN 1364-6613. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2005.06.008.

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Von Economo neurons (VENs) are a recently evolved cell type which may be involved in the fast intuitive assessment of complex situations. As such, they could be part of the circuitry supporting human social networks. We propose that the VENs relay an output of fronto-insular and anterior cingulate cortex to the parts of frontal and temporal cortex associated with theory-of-mind, where fast intuitions are melded with slower, deliberative judgments. The VENs emerge mainly after birth and increase in number until age 4 yrs. We propose that in autism spectrum disorders the VENs fail to develop normally, and that this failure might be partially responsible for the associated social disabilities that result from faulty intuition.

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Additional Information:© 2005 Elsevier. Available online 5 July 2005. We thank Archibald Fobbs for his generous assistance in the use of the Yakovlev Brain Collection at the National Museum of Health and Medicine; Wally Welker for use of the University of Wisconsin Brain Collection; and Katarina Semendeferi for the use of her collection at the University of California at San Diego. We also thank Kebreten Manaye of Howard University for advising us in the application stereological techniques and the use of her system for stereological counting. The autopsy brains of autistic individuals and for the immunocytochemical study of normal subjects was provided by the NICHD Brain and Tissue Band for Developmental Disorders at the University of Maryland under contract N01-HD-4–3368. This work was supported by grants from the Keck Discovery Fund for Biomedical Research, and the Swartz, Moore, and Packard Foundations.
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W. M. Keck FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Swartz FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
David and Lucile Packard FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:8
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170408-140150422
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Official Citation:John M. Allman, Karli K. Watson, Nicole A. Tetreault, Atiya Y. Hakeem, Intuition and autism: a possible role for Von Economo neurons, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 9, Issue 8, August 2005, Pages 367-373, ISSN 1364-6613, (
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ID Code:75906
Deposited By: 1Science Import
Deposited On:19 Apr 2017 17:39
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 16:56

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