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Facial emotion recognition function and white matter microstructural alterations in drug-naive, comorbidity-free autism.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder have deficits in facial emotion recognition and white matter microstructural alterations. Nonetheless, most previous studies were confounded by different variables, such as psychiatric comorbidities and psychotropic medications used by ASD participants. Also, it remains unclear how exactly FER deficits are related to white matter microstructural alterations in ASD. Accordingly, we aimed to investigate the FER functions, white matter microstructure, and their relationship in drug-naive and comorbidity-free ASD individuals. 59 ASD individuals and 59 typically developed individuals were included, where 46 ASD and 50 TD individuals completed FER tasks. Covariance analysis showed scores were lower in both basic and complex FER tasks in the ASD group. Tract-Based Spatial Statistics showed FA values in widespread white matter fibers were lower in the ASD group than in the TD group, including forceps major and forceps minor of the corpus callosum, anterior thalamic radiation, corticospinal tract, cingulum, inferior frontal-occipital fasciculus, inferior longitudinal fasciculus, superior longitudinal fasciculus. Moreover, in the TD group but not the ASD group, the performance in the complex FER task was negatively correlated with the FA value in some white matter fibers, including forceps major of the corpus callosum, ATR, CT, cingulum, IFOF, ILF, SLF. Our study suggests children with ASD may experience deficits in facial emotion recognition and exhibit alterations in white matter microstructure. More importantly, our study indicates that white matter microstructural alterations may be involved in FER deficits in children with ASD.

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