Both neuropsychological and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown deficiencies in face perception in subjects with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The fusiform gyrus has been regarded as the key structure in face perception. The cholinergic system is known to regulate the function of the visual pathway, including the fusiform gyrus.
To determine whether central acetylcholinesterase activity, a marker for the cholinergic system, is altered in ASD and whether the alteration in acetylcholinesterase activity, if any, is correlated with their social functioning.
Using positron emission tomography and a radiotracer, N -[11C]methyl-4-piperidyl acetate ([11C]MP4A), regional cerebrocortical acetylcholinesterase activities were estimated by reference tissue–based linear least-squares analysis and expressed in terms of the rate constant k3. Current and childhood autism symptoms in the adult subjects with ASD were assessed by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised, respectively. Voxel-based analyses as well as region of interest–based methods were used for between-subject analysis and within-subject correlation analysis with respect to clinical variables.
Participants recruited from the community.
Twenty adult subjects with ASD (14 male and 6 female; age range, 18-33 years; mean [SD] intelligence quotient, 91.6 [4.3]) and 20 age-, sex-, and intelligence quotient–matched healthy controls.
Both voxel- and region of interest–based analyses revealed significantly lower [11C]MP4A k3 values in the bilateral fusiform gyri of subjects with ASD than in those of controls (P < .05, corrected). The fusiform k3 values in subjects with ASD were negatively correlated with their social disabilities as assessed by Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule as well as Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised.
The results suggest that a deficit in cholinergic innervations of the fusiform gyrus, which can be observed in adults with ASD, may be related to not only current but also childhood impairment of social functioning.