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Published November 20, 2013 | Accepted Version + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Single-Neuron Correlates of Atypical Face Processing in Autism


People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show abnormal processing of faces. A range of morphometric, histological, and neuroimaging studies suggest the hypothesis that this abnormality may be linked to the amygdala. We recorded data from single neurons within the amygdalae of two rare neurosurgical patients with ASD. While basic electrophysiological response parameters were normal, there were specific and striking abnormalities in how individual facial features drove neuronal response. Compared to control patients, a population of neurons in the two ASD patients responded significantly more to the mouth, but less to the eyes. Moreover, we found a second class of face-responsive neurons for which responses to faces appeared normal. The findings confirm the amygdala's pivotal role in abnormal face processing by people with ASD at the cellular level and suggest that dysfunction may be traced to a specific subpopulation of neurons with altered selectivity for the features of faces.

Additional Information

© 2013 Elsevier Inc. Accepted: August 20, 2013; Published: November 20, 2013. We thank all patients and their families for their help in conducting the studies; Lynn Paul, Daniel Kennedy, and Christina Corsello for performing ADOS; Christopher Heller for neurosurgical implantation in some of our subjects; Linda Philpott for neuropsychological assessment; and William Sutherling and the staff of the Huntington Memorial Hospital for their support with the studies. We also thank Erin Schuman for advice and providing some of the electrophysiology equipment, and Frederic Gosselin, Michael Spezio, Julien Dubois, and Jeffrey Wertheimer for discussion. This research was made possible by funding from the Simons Foundation (to R.A.), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (to R.A.), the Max Planck Society (to U.R.), the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (to U.R. and A.M.), a fellowship from Autism Speaks (to O.T.), and a Conte Center from the National Institute of Mental Health (to R.A.).

Attached Files

Accepted Version - nihms541196.pdf

Supplemental Material - mmc1.pdf


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