Brain State Differentiation and Behavioral Inflexibility in Autism†

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Abstract

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by social impairments alongside cognitive and behavioral inflexibility. While social deficits in ASDs have extensively been characterized, the neurobiological basis of inflexibility and its relation to core clinical symptoms of the disorder are unknown. We acquired functional neuroimaging data from 2 cohorts, each consisting of 17 children with ASDs and 17 age- and IQ-matched typically developing (TD) children, during stimulus-evoked brain states involving performance of social attention and numerical problem solving tasks, as well as during intrinsic, resting brain states. Effective connectivity between key nodes of the salience network, default mode network, and central executive network was used to obtain indices of functional organization across evoked and intrinsic brain states. In both cohorts examined, a machine learning algorithm was able to discriminate intrinsic (resting) and evoked (task) functional brain network configurations more accurately in TD children than in children with ASD. Brain state discriminability was related to severity of restricted and repetitive behaviors, indicating that weak modulation of brain states may contribute to behavioral inflexibility in ASD. These findings provide novel evidence for a potential link between neurophysiological inflexibility and core symptoms of this complex neurodevelopmental disorder.

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