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Neuropathology of the social-cognitive network in Autism: a comparison with other structural theories

United Kingdom

Deficits in social cognitive abilities are a central feature of Autism Spectrum. Underlying such disorders is a network of specific brain regions that have not been systematically investigated in post-mortem brains in autism. The goals of this project are to: investigate social-cognition/theory of mind centers not previously studied in postmortem brains in autism; investigate primary sensory cortex (olfactory/auditory) not previously studied; confirm or refute pervasive minicolumn abnormalities in autism; contrast minicolumn, association cortex and Theory of Mind theories of autism; and gain insight into the timing and development of pathology by comparing upper and lower cortical layers and by studying an age range from childhood to adult. These contrasting hypotheses will be tested: i) The minicolumn hypothesis predicts changes in all cortical regions (association cortex and primary auditory) except olfactory cortex; ii) The association cortex hypothesis predicts changes in association cortex regions but not in primary auditory or olfactory cortex; and iii) The Theory of Mind hypothesis predicts changes in the cortical regions associated with social cognition, but not changes in primary auditory cortex. The study is expected to yield insight into the microstructural and developmental basis of autism, and dissociation of current theories.