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Deficient visuospatial working memory functions and neural correlates of the default-mode network in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder

Hsiang-Yun Chien, Susan Shur-Fen Gau, Wen-Yih Isaac Tseng
Autism Research: Official Journal of the International Society for Autism Research 2016, 9 (10): 1058-1072
26829405
In addition to the essential features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), namely social communication deficits and repetitive behaviors, individuals with ASD may suffer from working memory deficits and an altered default-mode network (DMN). We hypothesized that an altered DMN is related to working memory deficits in those with ASD. A total of 37 adolescents with ASD and 36 age- and IQ-matched typically developing (TD) controls were analyzed. Visuospatial working memory performance was assessed using pattern recognition memory (PRM), spatial recognition memory (SRM), and paired-associates learning (PAL) tasks. The intrinsic functional connectivity (iFC) of the DMN was indexed by the temporal correlations between the resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging signals of pairs of DMN regions, including those between the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and between the PCC and parahippocampi (PHG). The corresponding structural connectivity of the DMN was indexed by the generalized fractional anisotropy (GFA) of the dorsal and ventral cingulum bundles on the basis of diffusion spectrum imaging data. The results showed that ASD adolescents exhibited delayed correct responses in PRM and SRM tasks and committed more errors in the PAL task than the TD controls did. The delayed responses during the PRM and SRM tasks were negatively correlated with bilateral PCC-mPFC iFCs, and PAL performance was negatively correlated with right PCC-PHG iFC in ASD adolescents. Furthermore, ASD adolescents showed significant lower GFA in the right cingulum bundles than the TD group did; the GFA value was negatively correlated with SRM performance in ASD. Our results provide empirical evidence for deficient visuospatial working memory and corresponding neural correlates within the DMN in adolescents with ASD. Autism Res 2016, 9: 1058-1072. © 2016 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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