Developmental meta-analysis of the functional neural correlates of autism spectrum disorders

Daniel P. Dickstein, Matthew F. Pescosolido, Brooke L. Reidy, Thania Galvan, Kerri L. Kim, Karen E. Seymour, Angela R. Laird, Adriana Di Martino, Rowland P. Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Objective: There is a pressing need to elucidate the brain-behavior interactions underlying autism spectrum disorders (ASD) given the marked rise in ASD diagnosis over the past decade. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has begun to address this need, but few fMRI studies have evaluated age-related changes in ASD. Therefore, we conducted a developmental analysis of activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis to compare child versus adult ASD fMRI studies. We hypothesized that children and adolescents with ASD (<18 years old) would rely less on prefrontal cortex structures than adults (≥18 years old). Method: PubMed and PsycInfo literature searches were conducted to identify task-dependent fMRI studies of children or adults with ASD. Then recent GingerALE software improvements were leveraged to perform direct comparisons of child (n = 18) versus adult (n = 24) studies. Results: ALE meta-analyses of social tasks showed that children and adolescents with ASD versus adults had significantly greater hyperactivation in the left post-central gyrus, and greater hypoactivation in the right hippocampus and right superior temporal gyrus. ALE meta-analyses of nonsocial tasks showed that children with ASD versus adults had significantly greater hyperactivation in the right insula and left cingulate gyrus, and hypoactivation in the right middle frontal gyrus. Conclusion: Our data suggest that the neural alterations associated with ASD are not static, occurring only in early childhood. Instead, children with ASD have altered neural activity compared to adults during both social and nonsocial tasks, especially in fronto-temporal structures. Longitudinal neuroimaging studies are required to examine these changes prospectively, as potential targets for brain-based treatments for ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-289.e16
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • autistic disorder
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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