Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 232–241 | Cite as

Altered Dynamics of the fMRI Response to Faces in Individuals with Autism

  • Natalia M. KleinhansEmail author
  • Todd Richards
  • Jessica Greenson
  • Geraldine Dawson
  • Elizabeth Aylward
Original Paper


Abnormal fMRI habituation in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has been proposed as a critical component in social impairment. This study investigated habituation to fearful faces and houses in ASD and whether fMRI measures of brain activity discriminate between ASD and typically developing (TD) controls. Two identical fMRI runs presenting masked fearful faces, houses, and scrambled images were collected. We found significantly slower fMRI responses to fearful faces but not houses in ASD. In addition, the pattern of slow to emerge amygdala activation to faces had robust discriminability [ASD vs. TD; area under the curve (AUC) = .852, p < .001]. In contrast, habituation to houses had no predictive value (AUC = .573, p = .365). Amygdala habituation to emotional faces may be useful for quantifying risk in ASD.


Habituation Faces Houses Amygdala Fusiform Adaptation 



This work was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U19 HD34565) and the National Institute of Mental Health (U54MH066399). A subset of the data presented here were previously published in Kleinhans et al. (2011).

Author Contributions

NK conceived of the study and its design, processed the data, performed the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript; TR participated in acquiring, processing and interpreting the data, JG performed the diagnostic evaluations and behavioral testing and provided feedback on the manuscript, GD provided feedback on the study design, interpretation of the data, and the manuscript, EA participated in the design of the fMRI tasks, interpretation of the data, and provided feedback on the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 134 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 111 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (PDF 22 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (PDF 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natalia M. Kleinhans
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Todd Richards
    • 1
    • 4
  • Jessica Greenson
    • 2
    • 3
  • Geraldine Dawson
    • 3
    • 5
  • Elizabeth Aylward
    • 1
    • 3
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of RadiologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Speech and Hearing SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.UW Autism CenterUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Integrative Brain Imaging CenterUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  6. 6.Seattle Children’s Research InstituteSeattleUSA

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