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Investigating the Neurodevelopmental Trajectory of Emotional Face Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Principal Investigator:
  • Kristina Safar, Sick Kids

Project Overview

An understanding of emotional information from faces is critical for successful social interactions. A key component of ASD is poor social functioning. Deficits and dysfunction in the ‘social network’ of the brain have been reported in ASD, as well as differences in how individual regions of the brain communicate with one another (known as ‘functional connectivity’). However, only a handful of studies have investigated functional connectivity of brain regions implicated in face and emotional face processing in ASD. One way to study such phenomenon is to use magnetoencephalography (MEG), which is a functional imaging modality that measures brain activity during rest or when performing a task. Moreover, MEG is advantageous when compared to other brain imaging techniques as it captures direct and “real-time” neuronal activity, offering a combination of high spatial accuracy and excellent temporal resolution – where and when in the brain the processing is occurring. The overarching goals of the proposed research are to determine: 1) age-related changes in functional connectivity among brain regions implicated in implicit emotional face processing using MEG; and 2) whether individual differences in developmental changes in functional connectivity will correlate with structural changes in white matter tracts connecting those regions using MRI and DTI, respectively, in the largest dataset of ASD and control participants for a combined MEG/DTI study to date.