Neural bases of atypical emotional face processing in autism: A meta-analysis of fMRI studies
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Objectives. We aim to outline the neural correlates of atypical emotional face processing in individuals with ASD. Methods. A comprehensive literature search was conducted through electronic databases to identify functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of whole brain analysis with emotional-face processing tasks in individuals with ASD. The Signed Differential Mapping with random effects model was used to conduct meta-analyses. Identified fMRI studies were further divided into sub-groups based on contrast ("emotional-face vs. non-emotional-face" or "emotional-face vs. non-face") to confirm the results of a meta-analysis of the whole studies. Results. Thirteen studies with 226 individuals with ASD and 251 typically developing people were identified. We found ASD-related hyperactivation in subcortical structures, including bilateral thalamus, bilateral caudate, and right precuneus, and ASD-related hypoactivation in the hypothalamus during emotional-face processing. Sub-analyses with more homogeneous contrasts preserved the findings of the main analysis such as hyperactivation in sub-cortical structure. Jackknife analyses showed that hyperactivation of the left caudate was the most robust finding. Conclusions. Abnormalities in the subcortical structures, such as amygdala, hypothalamus and basal ganglia, are associated with atypical emotional-face processing in individuals with ASD. Copyright © 2014 Informa Healthcare.