Imaging evidence for disturbances in multiple learning and memory systems in persons with autism spectrum disorders

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Abstract

AIM

The aim of this article is to review neuroimaging studies of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that examine declarative, socio-emotional, and procedural learning and memory systems.

METHOD

We conducted a search of PubMed from 1996 to 2010 using the terms ‘autism,’‘learning,’‘memory,’ and ‘neuroimaging.’ We limited our review to studies correlating learning and memory function with neuroimaging features of the brain.

RESULTS

The early literature supports the following preliminary hypotheses: (1) abnormalities of hippocampal subregions may contribute to autistic deficits in episodic and relational memory; (2) disturbances to an amygdala-based network (which may include the fusiform gyrus, superior temporal cortex, and mirror neuron system) may contribute to autistic deficits in socio-emotional learning and memory; and (3) abnormalities of the striatum may contribute to developmental dyspraxia in individuals with ASD.

INTERPRETATION

Characterizing the disturbances to learning and memory systems in ASD can inform our understanding of the neural bases of autistic behaviors and the phenotypic heterogeneity of ASD.

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