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Cognitive neuroscience of autism


The past decade has witnessed an exponential growth in research on autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting social, language, communication, and behavioral development. This growth is fuelled by many factors, including rising prevalence rates; increased media attention and public awareness; the creation of new parent-based research foundations; and targeted federal funding opportunities. Researchers have taken advantage of new theoretical frameworks and exciting scientific technologies that are now being employed to address key questions about the underlying causes and pathophysiology of autism. Advances in developmental neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience, including the application of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods, have had a particularly significant impact in providing insights into the neurobiology of autism. Several of these key advances, which are closely tied to changes in the way the developmental phenotype of autism has been conceptualized, are highlighted in the papers comprising this Symposium issue.

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Corresponding author
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Helen Tager-Flusberg, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, 715 Albany Street, L-814, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail:
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D. Amaral , C. Schumann , & C.W. Nordahl (2008). Neuroanatomy of autism. Trends in Neurosciences, 31, 137145.

E. Courchesne , R. Carper , & N. Akshoomoff (2003). Evidence of brain overgrowth in the first year of life in autism. Journal of the American Medical Association, 290, 337344.

A. Diamond (2002). Normal development of prefrontal cortex from birth to young adulthood: Cognitive functions, anatomy, and biochemistry. In D.T. Stuss & R.T. Knight (Eds.), Principles of Frontal Lobe Function (pp. 466503). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

E. Di-Cicco-Bloom , C. Lord , L. Zwaigenbaum , E. Courchesne , S. Dager , C. Schmitz , R. Schultz , J. Crawley , L. &. Young (2006). The developmental neurobiology of autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Neuroscience, 26, 68976906.

N. Hadjikhani , R.M. Joseph , J. Snyder , C. Chabris , J. Clark , S. Steele , L. McGrath , M. Vangel , I. Aharon , E. Feczko , G.J. Harris , & H. Tager-Flusberg (2004). Activation of the fusiform gyrus when individuals with autism spectrum disorder view faces. Neuroimage, 22, 11411150.

G. Harris , C. Chabris , J. Clark , T. Urban , I. Aharon , S. Steele , L. McGrath , K. Condouris , & H. Tager-Flusberg (2006). Brain activation during semantic processing in autism spectrum disorders via functional magnetic resonance imaging. Brain and Cognition, 61, 5468.

M. Just , V. Cherkassyky , T. Keller , & N. Minshew (2004). Cortical activation and synchronization during sentence comprehension in high-functioning autism: Evidence of underconnectivity. Brain, 127, 18111821.

A. Karmiloff-Smith (1997). Crucial differences between developmental cognitive neuroscience and adult neuropsychology. Developmental Neuropsychology, 13, 513524.

J. Lainhart , J. Piven , M. Wzorek , R. Landa , S. Santangelo , H. Coon , & S. Folstein (1997). Macrocephaly in children and adults with autism. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 282290.

E. Morrow , S.-Y. Yoo , S. Flavell , T.-K. Kim , Y. Lin , R. Hill , N. Mukaddes , S. Balkhy , G. Gascon , A. Hashmi , S. Al-Saad , J. Ware , R.M. Joseph , R. Greenblatt , D. Gleason , J. Ertelt , K. Apse , A. Bodell , J. Partlow , B. Barry , H. Yao , K. Markianos , R. Ferland , M.E. Greenberg , & C.A. Walsh (2008). Identifying autism loci and genes by tracing recent shared ancestry. Science, 321, 218223.

B. Nacewicz , K. Dalton , T. Johnstone , M. Long , E. McAuliff , T. Oakes , A. Alexander , & R. J. Davidson (2006). Amygdala volume and nonverbal social impairment in adolescents and adult males with autism. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63, 14171428.

M. O'Riordan (2004). Superior visual search in adults with autism. Autism, 8, 229248.

N. Sasson (2006). The development of face processing in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 381394.

C. Schumann , J. Hamstra , B. Goodlin-Jones , L. Lotspeich , H. Kwon , M. Bueonocoro , C. Lammers , A. Reiss , & D. Amaral (2004). The amygdala is enlarged in children but not adolescents with autism; the hippocampus is enlarged at all ages. Journal of Neuroscience, 24, 63926401.

N. Yirmiya & S. Ozonoff (2007). The very early autism phenotype. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 111.

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Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society
  • ISSN: 1355-6177
  • EISSN: 1469-7661
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-international-neuropsychological-society
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