Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 45, Issue 11, pp 3409–3423 | Cite as

Neural Mechanisms of Emotion Regulation in Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • J. Anthony Richey
  • Cara R. Damiano
  • Antoinette Sabatino
  • Alison Rittenberg
  • Chris Petty
  • Josh Bizzell
  • James Voyvodic
  • Aaron S. Heller
  • Marika C. Coffman
  • Moria Smoski
  • Richard J. Davidson
  • Gabriel S. DichterEmail author
SI: Emotion Regulation and Psychiatric Comorbidity in ASD


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by high rates of comorbid internalizing and externalizing disorders. One mechanistic account of these comorbidities is that ASD is characterized by impaired emotion regulation (ER) that results in deficits modulating emotional responses. We assessed neural activation during cognitive reappraisal of faces in high functioning adults with ASD. Groups did not differ in looking time, pupilometry, or subjective ratings of faces during reappraisal. However, instructions to increase positive and negative emotional responses resulted in less increase in nucleus accumbens and amygdala activations (respectively) in the ASD group, and both regulation instructions resulted in less change in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation in the ASD group. Results suggest a potential mechanistic account of impaired ER in ASD.


Autism spectrum disorder Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex Amygdala Nucleus accumbens Emotion regulation Eyetracking 



We thank the clinicians at Chapel Hill Division TEACCH for consultation on the cognitive reappraisal training instructions. Portions of these findings were presented at the 2014 Society for Biological Psychiatry in New York City. We thank BIAC MRI technologists Susan Music, Natalie Goutkin, and Luke Poole for assistance with data acquisition, and BIAC Director Allen Song for assistance with various aspects of this project. This research was supported by MH081285, MH085254, MH073402, HD079124, HD40127, H325D070011, and a UNC-CH Graduate School Dissertation Completion Fellowship (CRD). Assistance with participant recruitment was provided by the Clinical Translational Core of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (HD079124).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 310 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Anthony Richey
    • 1
    • 6
  • Cara R. Damiano
    • 1
    • 5
  • Antoinette Sabatino
    • 5
    • 9
  • Alison Rittenberg
    • 1
  • Chris Petty
    • 2
  • Josh Bizzell
    • 2
    • 3
  • James Voyvodic
    • 2
  • Aaron S. Heller
    • 7
  • Marika C. Coffman
    • 6
  • Moria Smoski
    • 4
  • Richard J. Davidson
    • 8
  • Gabriel S. Dichter
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Carolina Institute for Developmental DisabilitiesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of MedicineChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Duke-UNC Brain Imaging and Analysis CenterDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of MedicineChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  6. 6.Department of PsychologyVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  7. 7.Sackler Institute for Developmental PsychobiologyWeill Medical College of Cornell UniversityNew YorkUSA
  8. 8.Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, Center for Investigating Healthy MindsUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  9. 9.Geisinger-Autism and Developmental Medicine InstituteLewisburgUSA

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