Structural and Functional Properties of Social Brain Networks in Autism and Social Anxiety

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Virginia Tech

The default mode network (DMN) is active in the absence of task demands and during self-referential thought. Considerable evidence suggests that the DMN is involved in normative aspects of social cognition, and as such, disruptions in the function of DMN would be expected in disorders characterized by alterations in social function. Consistent with this notion, work in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) has demonstrated altered activation of several core regions of the DMN relative to neurotypical controls. Despite emergent evidence for alterations within the same brain systems in SAD and ASD, as well as a behavioral continuum of social impairments, no study to date has examined what is unique and what is common to the brain systems within these disorders. Therefore, the primary aim of the current study is to precisely characterize the topology of neural connectivity within the DMN in SAD and ASD and neurotypical controls in order to test the following hypotheses through functional and structural connectivity analyses of the DMN. Our analyses demonstrate increased coavtivation of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex in ASD and SAD compared to controls, as well as over and under connectivity in structural brain connectivity in ASD. These results may reflect general deficits in social function at rest, and disorder specific alterations in structural connectivity in ASD.

social disability, autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety disorder, functional connectivity, resting state fMRI