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Enhanced Early Visual Responses During Implicit Emotional Faces Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Abstract

Research on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has focused on processing of socially-relevant stimuli, such as faces. Nonetheless, before being ‘social’, faces are visual stimuli. The present magnetoencephalography study investigated the time course of brain activity during an implicit emotional task in visual emotion-related regions in 19 adults with ASD (mean age 26.3 ± 4.4) and 19 typically developed controls (26.4 ± 4). The results confirmed previously-reported differences between groups in brain responses to emotion and a hypo-activation in the ASD group in the right fusiform gyrus around 150 ms. However, the ASD group also presented early enhanced activity in the occipital region. These results support that impaired face processing in ASD might be sustained by atypical responses in primary visual areas.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the participants for their involvement in the study. We also thank Anne Keller, Veronica Yuk and Rachel Leung for helping in data analyses and data collection.

Funding

This work was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) 654 (Grants: MOP-119541 and MOP-142379) to MJT. The data analyses and the preparation of this article were supported by the Fondation Thérèse Planiol to KK.

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RM, SMW and BTD participated in the pre-processing of the data; KK, RM, SMW and BTD participated in the analysis of the data; KK, RM, BTD, MJT and MB contributed to interpretation of the data; MJT designed the protocol; KK, MJT and MB wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors participated in revising it critically for important intellectual content and have given final approval of the version to be published.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Klara Kovarski.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Kovarski, K., Mennella, R., Wong, S.M. et al. Enhanced Early Visual Responses During Implicit Emotional Faces Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 49, 871–886 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3787-3

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • MEG
  • Face processing
  • Emotion
  • Visual processing