Magazine article USA TODAY

Focusing on Faces May Be Key to Cure

Magazine article USA TODAY

Focusing on Faces May Be Key to Cure

Article excerpt

Difficulties in social interaction are considered to be one of the behavioral hallmarks of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Previous studies have shown these difficulties to be related to differences in how the brains of autistic individuals process sensory information about faces.

A group of researchers led by Ralph Adolphs of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, has made the first recordings of the firings of single neurons in the brains of autistic individuals, and has found specific neurons in a region called the amygdala that show reduced processing of the eye region of faces. Furthermore, the study found that these same neurons responded more to mouths than did the neurons seen in the control-group individuals.

"We found that single brain cells in the amygdala of people with autism respond differently to faces in a way that explains many prior behavioral observations," says Adolphs, professor of psychology, neuroscience, and biology. "We believe this shows that abnormal functioning in the amygdala is a reason that people with autism process faces abnormally."

The amygdala long has been known to be important for the processing of emotional reactions. …

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