Functional Organization of the Action Observation Network in Autism: A Graph Theory ApproachReport as inadecuate

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The ability to recognize, understand and interpret other’s actions and emotions has been linked to the mirror system or action-observation-network AON. Although variations in these abilities are prevalent in the neuro-typical population, persons diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders ASD have deficits in the social domain and exhibit alterations in this neural network.


Here, we examined functional network properties of the AON using graph theory measures and region-to-region functional connectivity analyses of resting-state fMRI-data from adolescents and young adults with ASD and typical controls TC.


Overall, our graph theory analyses provided convergent evidence that the network integrity of the AON is altered in ASD, and that reductions in network efficiency relate to reductions in overall network density i.e., decreased overall connection strength. Compared to TC, individuals with ASD showed significant reductions in network efficiency and increased shortest path lengths and centrality. Importantly, when adjusting for overall differences in network density between ASD and TC groups, participants with ASD continued to display reductions in network integrity, suggesting that also network-level organizational properties of the AON are altered in ASD.


While differences in empirical connectivity contributed to reductions in network integrity, graph theoretical analyses provided indications that also changes in the high-level network organization reduced integrity of the AON.

Author: Kaat Alaerts, Franca Geerlings, Lynn Herremans, Stephan P. Swinnen, Judith Verhoeven, Stefan Sunaert, Nicole Wenderoth



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