Action simulation and mirroring in children with autism spectrum disorders.
ABSTRACT: Mental imitation, perhaps a precursor to motor imitation, involves visual perspective-taking and motor imagery. Research on mental imitation in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has been rather limited compared to that on motor imitation. The main objective of this fMRI study is to determine the differences in brain responses underlying mirroring and mentalizing networks during mental imitation in children and adolescents with ASD. Thirteen high-functioning children and adolescents with ASD and 15 age-and- IQ-matched typically developing (TD) control participants took part in this fMRI study. In the MRI scanner, participants were shown cartoon pictures of people performing everyday actions (Transitive actions: e.g., ironing clothes but with the hand missing; and Intransitive actions: e.g., clapping hands with the palms missing) and were asked to identify which hand or palm orientation would best fit the gap. The main findings are: 1) both groups performed equally while processing transitive and intransitive actions; 2) both tasks yielded activation in the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and inferior parietal lobule (IPL) in ASD and TD groups; 3) Increased activation was seen in ASD children, relative to TD, in left ventral premotor and right middle temporal gyrus during intransitive actions; and 4) ASD symptom severity positively correlated with activation in left parietal, right middle temporal, and right premotor regions across all subjects. Overall, our findings suggest that regions mediating mirroring may be recruiting more brain resources in ASD and may have implications for understanding social movement through modeling.
Project description:The ability to reproduce visually presented actions has been studied through neuropsychological observations of patients with ideomotor apraxia. These studies include attempts to understand the neural basis of action reproduction based on lesion-symptom mapping in different patient groups. While there is a convergence of evidence that areas in the parietal and frontal lobes within the left hemisphere are involved in the imitation of a variety of actions, questions remain about whether the results generalize beyond the imitation of tool use and whether the presence of a strong grasp component of the action is critical. Here we used voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping to assess the neural substrates of imitating meaningful (familiar, MF) and meaningless (unfamiliar, ML) tool-related (transitive) and non-tool related (intransitive) actions. The analysis showed that the left parietal cortex was involved in the imitation of transitive gestures, regardless of whether they were meaningful or not. In addition there was poor reproduction of meaningless actions (both transitive and intransitive) following damage of the right frontal cortex. These findings suggest a role of right frontal regions in processing of unfamiliar actions.
Project description:Evidence from neuropsychology and neuroimaging implicates parietal and frontal areas of the left cerebral hemisphere in the representation of skills involving the use of tools and other artifacts. On the basis of neuropsychological data, it has been claimed that 1) independent mechanisms within the left hemisphere may support the representation of these skills (transitive actions) versus meaningful gestures that do not involve manipulating objects (intransitive actions), and 2) both cerebral hemispheres may participate in the representation of intransitive gestures. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to test these hypotheses in 12 healthy adults while they planned and executed tool use pantomimes or intransitive gestures with their dominant right (Exp. 1) or nondominant left (Exp. 2) hands. Even when linguistic processing demands were controlled, planning either type of action was associated with asymmetrical increases in the same regions of left parietal (the intraparietal sulcus, supramarginal gyrus, and caudal superior parietal lobule) and dorsal premotor cortices. Effects were greater for tool use pantomimes, but only when the right hand was involved. Neither group nor individual analyses revealed evidence for greater bilateral activity during intransitive gesture planning. In summary, at the hand-independent level, transitive and intransitive actions are represented in a common, left-lateralized praxis network.
Project description:Data from focal brain injury and functional neuroimaging studies implicate a distributed network of parieto-fronto-temporal areas in the human left cerebral hemisphere as playing distinct roles in the representation of meaningful actions (praxis). Because these data come primarily from right-handed individuals, the relationship between left cerebral specialization for praxis representation and hand dominance remains unclear. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate the hypothesis that strongly left-handed (right hemisphere motor dominant) adults also exhibit this left cerebral specialization. Participants planned familiar actions for subsequent performance with the left or right hand in response to transitive (e.g., "pounding") or intransitive (e.g. "waving") action words. In linguistic control trials, cues denoted non-physical actions (e.g., "believing"). Action planning was associated with significant, exclusively left-lateralized and extensive increases of activity in the supramarginal gyrus (SMg), and more focal modulations in the left caudal middle temporal gyrus (cMTg). This activity was hand- and gesture-independent, i.e., unaffected by the hand involved in subsequent action performance, and the type of gesture (i.e., transitive or intransitive). Compared directly with right-handers, left-handers exhibited greater involvement of the right angular gyrus (ANg) and dorsal premotor cortex (dPMC), which is indicative of a less asymmetric functional architecture for praxis representation. We therefore conclude that the organization of mechanisms involved in planning familiar actions is influenced by one's motor dominance. However, independent of hand dominance, the left SMg and cMTg are specialized for ideomotor transformations-the integration of conceptual knowledge and motor representations into meaningful actions. These findings support the view that higher-order praxis representation and lower-level motor dominance rely on dissociable mechanisms.
Project description:Engaging in socially embedded actions such as imitation and interpersonal synchrony facilitates relationships with peers and caregivers. Imitation and interpersonal synchrony impairments of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) might contribute to their difficulties in connecting and learning from others. Previous fMRI studies investigated cortical activation in children with ASD during finger/hand movement imitation; however, we do not know whether these findings generalize to naturalistic face-to-face imitation/interpersonal synchrony tasks. Using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), the current study assessed the cortical activation of children with and without ASD during a face-to-face interpersonal synchrony task. Fourteen children with ASD and 17 typically developing (TD) children completed three conditions: a) Watch-observed an adult clean up blocks; b) Do-cleaned up the blocks on their own; and c) Together-synchronized their block clean up actions to that of an adult. Children with ASD showed lower spatial and temporal synchrony accuracies but intact motor accuracy during the Together/interpersonal synchrony condition. In terms of cortical activation, children with ASD had hypoactivation in the middle and inferior frontal gyri (MIFG) as well as middle and superior temporal gyri (MSTG) while showing hyperactivation in the inferior parietal cortices/lobule (IPL) compared to the TD children. During the Together condition, the TD children showed bilaterally symmetrical activation whereas children with ASD showed more left-lateralized activation over MIFG and right-lateralized activation over MSTG. Additionally, using ADOS scores, in children with ASD greater social affect impairment was associated with lower activation in the left MIFG and more repetitive behavior impairment was associated with greater activation over bilateral MSTG. In children with ASD better communication performance on the VABS was associated with greater MIFG and/or MSTG activation. We identified objective neural biomarkers that could be utilized as outcome predictors or treatment response indicators in future intervention studies.
Project description:Many lines of evidence point to a tight linkage between the perceptual and motoric representations of actions. Numerous demonstrations show how the visual perception of an action engages compatible activity in the observer's motor system. This is seen for both intransitive actions (e.g., in the case of unconscious postural imitation) and transitive actions (e.g., grasping an object). Although the discovery of "mirror neurons" in macaques has inspired explanations of these processes in human action behaviors, the evidence for areas in the human brain that similarly form a crossmodal visual/motor representation of actions remains incomplete. To address this, in the present study, participants performed and observed hand actions while being scanned with functional MRI. We took a data-driven approach by applying whole-brain information mapping using a multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA) classifier, performed on reconstructed representations of the cortical surface. The aim was to identify regions in which local voxelwise patterns of activity can distinguish among different actions, across the visual and motor domains. Experiment 1 tested intransitive, meaningless hand movements, whereas experiment 2 tested object-directed actions (all right-handed). Our analyses of both experiments revealed crossmodal action regions in the lateral occipitotemporal cortex (bilaterally) and in the left postcentral gyrus/anterior parietal cortex. Furthermore, in experiment 2 we identified a gradient of bias in the patterns of information in the left hemisphere postcentral/parietal region. The postcentral gyrus carried more information about the effectors used to carry out the action (fingers vs. whole hand), whereas anterior parietal regions carried more information about the goal of the action (lift vs. punch). Taken together, these results provide evidence for common neural coding in these areas of the visual and motor aspects of actions, and demonstrate further how MVPA can contribute to our understanding of the nature of distributed neural representations.
Project description:Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) adaptation (a.k.a. repetition suppression) paradigm was used to test if semantic information contained in object-related (transitive) pantomimes and communicative (intransitive) gestures is represented differently in the occipito-temporal cortex. Participants watched 2.75?s back-to-back videos where the meaning of gesture was either repeated or changed. The just observed (typically second) gesture was then imitated. To maintain participants' attention, some trials contained a single video. fMRI adaptation -signal decreases- for watching both movement categories were observed particularly in the lateral occipital cortex, including the extrastriate body area (EBA). Yet, intransitive (vs. transitive) gesture specific repetition suppression was found mainly in the left rostral EBA and caudal middle temporal gyrus- the rEBA/cMTG complex. Repetition enhancement (signal increase) was revealed in the precuneus. While the whole brain and region-of-interest analyses indicate that the precuneus is involved only in visuospatial action processing for later imitation, the common EBA repetition suppression discloses sensitivity to the meaning of symbolic gesture, namely the "semantic what" of actions. Moreover, the rEBA/cMTG suppression reveals greater selectivity for conventionalized communicative gesture. Thus, fMRI adaptation shows higher-order functions of EBA, its role in the semantic network, and indicates that its functional repertoire is wider than previously thought.
Project description:The ventral premotor cortex (PMv) is involved in grasping and object manipulation, while the dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) has been suggested to play a role in reaching and action selection. These areas have also been associated with action imitation, but their relative roles in different types of action imitation are unclear. We examined the role of the left PMv and PMd in meaningful and meaningless action imitation by using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Participants imitated meaningful and meaningless actions performed by a confederate actor while both individuals were motion-tracked. rTMS was applied over the left PMv, left PMd or a vertex control site during action observation or imitation. Digit velocity was significantly greater following stimulation over the PMv during imitation compared with stimulation over the PMv during observation, regardless of action meaning. Similar effects were not observed over the PMd or vertex. In addition, stimulation over the PMv increased finger movement speed in a (non-imitative) finger-thumb opposition task. We suggest that claims regarding the role of the PMv in object-directed hand shaping may stem from the prevalence of object-directed designs in motor control research. Our results indicate that the PMv may have a broader role in 'target-directed' hand shaping, whereby different areas of the hand are considered targets to act upon during intransitive gesturing.
Project description:Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate impairments in non-verbal communication, including gesturing and imitation deficits. Reduced sensitivity to biological motion (BM) in ASD may impair processing of dynamic social cues like gestures, which in turn may impede encoding and subsequent performance of these actions. Using both an fMRI task involving observation of action gestures and a charade style paradigm assessing gesture performance, this study examined the brain-behavior relationships between neural activity during gesture processing, gesturing abilities and social symptomology in a group of children and adolescents with and without ASD. Compared to typically developing (TD) controls, participants with ASD showed atypical sensitivity to movement in right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), a region implicated in action processing, and had poorer overall gesture performance with specific deficits in hand posture. The TD group showed associations between neural activity, gesture performance and social skills, that were weak or non-significant in the ASD group. These findings suggest that those with ASD demonstrate abnormalities in both processing and production of gestures and may reflect dysfunction in the mechanism underlying perception-action coupling resulting in atypical development of social and communicative skills.
Project description:Limb apraxia is a syndrome often observed after stroke that affects the ability to perform skilled actions despite intact elementary motor and sensory systems. In a large cohort of unselected stroke patients with lesions to the left, right, and bilateral hemispheres, we used voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping (VLSM) on clinical CT head images to identify the neuroanatomical correlates of the impairment of performance in three tasks investigating praxis skills in patient populations. These included a meaningless gesture imitation task, a gesture production task involving pantomiming transitive and intransitive gestures, and a gesture recognition task involving recognition of these same categories of gestures. Neocortical lesions associated with poor performance in these tasks were all in the left hemisphere. They involved the pre-striate and medial temporal cortices, the superior temporal sulcus, inferior parietal area PGi, the superior longitudinal fasciculus underlying the primary motor cortex, and the uncinate fasciculus, subserving connections between temporal and frontal regions. No significant lesions were identified when language deficits, as indicated via a picture naming task, were controlled for. The implication of the superior temporal sulcus and the anatomically connected prestriate and inferior parietal regions challenges traditional models of the disorder. The network identified has been implicated in studies of action observation, which might share cognitive functions sub-serving praxis and language skills.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Impaired imitation has been found to be an important factor contributing to social communication deficits in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It has been hypothesized that the neural correlate of imitation, the mirror neuron system (MNS), is dysfunctional in ASD, resulting in imitation impairment as one of the key behavioral manifestations in ASD. Previous MNS studies produced inconsistent results, leaving the debate of whether "broken" mirror neurons in ASD are unresolved. METHODS:This meta-analysis aimed to explore the differences in MNS activation patterns between typically developing (TD) and ASD individuals when they observe biological motions with or without social-emotional components. Effect size signed differential mapping (ES-SDM) was adopted to synthesize the available fMRI data. RESULTS:ES-SDM analysis revealed hyperactivation in the right inferior frontal gyrus and left supplementary motor area in ASD during observation of biological motions. Subgroup analysis of experiments involving the observation of stimuli with or without emotional component revealed hyperactivation in the left inferior parietal lobule and left supplementary motor during action observation without emotional components, whereas hyperactivation of the right inferior frontal gyrus was found during action observation with emotional components in ASD. Subgroup analyses of age showed hyperactivation of the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus in ASD adolescents, while hyperactivation in the right inferior frontal gyrus was noted in ASD adults. Meta-regression within ASD individuals indicated that the right cerebellum crus I activation increased with age, while the left inferior temporal gyrus activation decreased with age. LIMITATIONS:This meta-analysis is limited in its generalization of the findings to individuals with ASD by the restricted age range, heterogeneous study sample, and the large within-group variation in MNS activation patterns during object observation. Furthermore, we only included action observation studies which might limit the generalization of our results to the imitation deficits in ASD. In addition, the relatively small sample size for individual studies might also potentially overestimate the effect sizes. CONCLUSION:The MNS is impaired in ASD. The abnormal activation patterns were found to be modulated by the nature of stimuli and age, which might explain the contradictory results from earlier studies on the "broken mirror neuron" debate.