Autism is Characterized by Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Hyperactivation
During Social Target Detection
Gabriel S. Dichter; Jennifer N. Felder; James W. Bodfish Posted:
12/28/2009; Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
2009;4(3):215-226. © 2009 medscape.com is.gd/5GKT8
Abstract and Introduction
Though the functional neural correlates
of impaired cognitive control and social dysfunction in autism spectrum
disorders (ASD) have been delineated, brain regions implicated in poor
cognitive control of social information is a novel area of autism
research. We recently reported in a non-clinical sample that detection
of 'social oddball' targets activated a portion of the dorsal anterior
cingulate gyrus and the supracalcarine cortex (Dichter, Felder,
Bodfish, Sikich, and Belger, 2009). In the present investigation, we
report functional magnetic resonance imaging results from individuals
with ASD who completed the same social oddball task. Between-group
comparisons revealed generally greater activation in the ASD group to
both social and non-social targets. When responses to social and
non-social targets were contrasted, the ASD group showed relatively
greater activation in the right and middle inferior frontal gyri and a
region in dorsomedial prefrontal cortex that abuts the dorsal anterior
cingulate (Brodmann's Area 32). Further, dorsal anterior cingulate
activation to social targets predicted the severity of social
impairments in a subset of the ASD sample. These data suggest that the
dorsal anterior cingulate mediates social target detection in
neurotypical individuals and is implicated in deficits of cognitive
control of social information in ASD.
The purpose of this study was to examine
patterns of regional brain activation in individuals with autism
spectrum disorders (ASD) during a target detection task that involved
both social and non-social components. Whereas previous studies have
demonstrated that individuals with ASD show anomalous brain activation
during target detection tasks (Gomot et al., 2008; Shafritz et al.,
2008), these studies used tasks that involved non-social information.
However, the social cognitive deficits that are the sine qua non of
autism should produce a unique pattern of responses during tasks that
press for cognitive control of social information. Such tasks would
represent a reasonable facsimile of everyday social situations wherein
successful adaptation requires the identification of relevant and
irrelevant social cues as well as the differential processing of social
and non-social sources of information.
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• • •
Scientists Discover a Controller of
ScienceDaily — By combining a research
technique that dates back 136 years with modern molecular genetics, a
Johns Hopkins neuroscientist has been able to see how a mammal's brain
shrewdly revisits and reuses the same molecular cues to control the
complex design of its circuits.
Details of the observation in lab mice,
published Dec. 24 in Nature, reveal that semaphorin, a protein found in
the developing nervous system that guides filament-like processes,
called axons, from nerve cells to their appropriate targets during
embryonic life, apparently assumes an entirely different role later on,
once axons reach their targets. In postnatal development and adulthood,
semaphorins appear to be regulating the creation of synapses -- those
connections that chemically link nerve cells.
"With this discovery we're able to
understand how semaphorins regulate the number of synapses and their
distribution in the part of the brain involved in conscious thought,"
says David Ginty, Ph.D., a professor in the neuroscience department at
the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes
Medical Institute investigator. "It's a major step forward, we believe,
in our understanding of the assembly of neural circuits that underlie
Because the brain's activity is
determined by how and where these connections form, Ginty says that
semaphorin's newly defined role could have an impact on how scientists
think about the early origins of autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy and
other neurological disorders.
The discovery came as a surprise finding
in studies by the Johns Hopkins team to figure out how nerve cells
develop axons, which project information from the cells, as well as
dendrites, which essentially bring information in. Because earlier work
from the Johns Hopkins labs of Ginty and Alex Kolodkin, Ph.D., showed
that semaphorins affect axon trajectory and growth, they suspected that
perhaps these guidance molecules might have some involvement with
Kolodkin, a professor in the
neuroscience department at Johns Hopkins and a Howard Hughes Medical
Institute investigator, discovered and cloned the first semaphorin gene
in the grasshopper when he was a postdoctoral fellow. Over the past 15
years, numerous animal models, including strains of genetically
engineered mice, have been created to study this family of molecules.
Using two lines of mice -- one missing
semaphorin and another missing neuropilin, its receptor -- postdoctoral
fellow Tracy Tran used a classic staining method called the Golgi
technique to look at the anatomy of nerve cells from mouse brains. (The
Golgi technique involves soaking nerve tissue in silver chromate to
make cells' inner structures visible under the light microscope; it
allowed neuroanatomists in 1891 to determine that the nervous system is
interconnected by discrete cells called neurons.)
• • •
Consumers Get Medical Test Results
Straight From Labs
By Lee Bowman, Scripps Howard News
As Americans struggle to take charge of
their health care -- and hold down their medical costs -- a growing
number are bypassing the doctor and going right to the source for
Whether through arrangements made online
or at one of scores of storefront testing centers around the country,
patients are rolling up their sleeves to get screening results about
everything from sexually transmitted diseases to cholesterol levels
that in many cases leave physicians out of the loop.
Most of the time, patients pay for the
testing out of pocket, with no insurance money involved. And they
control who sees the results.
The concept appeals to patients like
40-year-old Deon Lawson of Abilene, Texas, who went to a new storefront
lab "to tell me if my thyroid level is off." She said she had
previously been diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid, but sought the
test when she felt her condition might be worsening. "That way, I know
if I want to go to the doctor."
But having patients make the call based
on consumer-ordered test results is a major concern for many doctors.
"There's always the worry that some
consumer orders this blood screen on the Web and it comes back with a
white count of 150,000 or some other big red flag, and he ignores it
and dies. And everyone says consumers can't be trusted with this
stuff," said Dr. Bruce Friedman, professor emeritus of pathology at the
University of Michigan Medical School who follows
consumer-direct-testing issues. "I think the majority of consumers,
when given abnormal results, will take it to a physician and ask for
For many clients, the labs are all about
sex or drugs -- finding out, as privately as possible, answers about
STDs, paternity, even sperm counts. Others want to know, in advance,
whether they're likely to pass a pre-employment drug test. Often, the
employer may send them back to the same lab for the official check.
Many of the facilities also report doing
basic forensic work for private investigators, such as DNA tests of
hair found on a pillow by a suspicious spouse.
The lab services also market bundles of
tests recommended by various experts from diet-book authors to doctors
who have researched complex medical conditions such as autism, chronic
fatigue and arthritis.
Simple tests can cost as little as $25
to $49, while more complicated tests can run into hundreds or even
thousands of dollars.
In all, medical testing is a $55
billion-a-year business in the United States. Industry experts say lab
tests sold directly to consumers make up only about $100 million of
that market, but believe the share will grow as people without
insurance or with limited coverage seek lower-cost diagnostic options.
While there are about 200,000
medical-testing labs registered with the federal government, the vast
majority of medical-diagnostic work in the U.S. is actually performed
at the collection centers and facilities of two firms -- Quest
Diagnostics and Lab Corp. of America.
So whether a test is ordered through a
doctor's office, a retail outlet or online, chances are that the actual
work will be done in the same mega-labs.
A patchwork of state rules covers how
the diagnostic tests are done. Although there have been a number of
calls to regulate tests offered over the Internet, particularly genetic
tests, so far federal health officials haven't moved against
consumer-requested lab tests, as long as the labs doing the tests are
State restrictions can range from having
no requirement for doctor referral, as in Texas, to a strict
interpretation that lab tests have to be ordered by and results
returned to a doctor, the situation in California and other states
where most companies have been able to meet the requirements by having
consumer requests passed through medical directors licensed to practice
in those states.
Most online firms say they flag findings
that appear to represent a serious medical threat and also caution
patients to consult with a physician about their results. Most
storefront centers offer to go over written results with customers.
+ Read more: is.gd/5GKDt
• • •
'He's A Gifted Dancer': Davina Mccall Defends The Decision To Allow An
Autistic Boy To Audition For Her New Talent Show
By Georgina Littlejohn, dailymail.co.uk.
He's a ten-year-old little boy who
fancies his chances on a new reality TV dance show.
But bosses of Got To Dance, which starts
on Sky 1 this Sunday night, have been criticised for allowing James
Hobley to audition because he suffers from autism.
In the aftermath of Britain's Got Talent
contestant Susan Boyle's mental breakdown after the stresses brought on
by the pressure of the show, there are fears that James may not be able
to cope with the spotlight.
Got To Dance: 10-year-old James Hobley,
who suffers from autism, auditions for the new Sky 1 show Got To Dance,
which starts this Sunday.
But host Davina McCall defended the
decision to let him perform.
She said: 'If James had been
spectacularly bad and he’d been laughed at on stage, then I would have
been very upset.
'But it’s not like that. James is a
gifted dancer and, in fact, dancing has helped him in the most amazing
'He hasn’t been put in the firing line
to be laughed at. Viewers will love him.
'I am very protective about anyone who
goes onto any of the shows I do, including Big Brother. I would hate
the idea that someone would be upset.
'I want people to enjoy the experience.
We go out of our way to make sure the contestants, especially the kids,
are looked after.
'If anyone cried at auditions I would
rush out to comfort them or take them to their families.
Hopeful: James waits for the judges'
verdict on his dance routine
'The judges on our show are also
sensitive to the auditionees, especially the kids.'
And there are high hopes that James will
make it through to the finals, after he performed a routine to the
Blackout Crew’s BB Bounce and Evanescence’s My Immortal.
From Redcar in Middlesborough, he is one
of three autistic boys in his family, but wasn’t coping very well with
the condition and had trouble communicating with others.
But three years ago, after the splints
on his legs were removed, he got a new lease of life when a leaflet
dropped through his door about dancing and he decided to take it up.
+ Read more: is.gd/5GLor
Schafer Autism Report
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year - or free!
• • •
Maine Hacker Pleads Guilty
By The Mainebiz News. is.gd/5GM00
An Aspergers hacker charged with
stealing data from major retailers and organizing the Hannaford data
breach could spend up to 25 years in jail.
Albert Gonzalez pled guilty Tuesday at
the U.S. District Court in Boston to hacking into the computer servers
of Scarborough-based Hannaford Bros. Co. and stealing information on
4.2 million credit and debit cards, according to the Associated Press.
The 28-year-old Florida man and former federal informant also pleaded
guilty to hacking into 7-Eleven and New Jersey-based credit card
processor Heartland Payment Systems Inc., as well as two unnamed
companies. In September, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to stealing data from
major retailers TJX Cos., BJs Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, BostonMarket,
Barnes & Noble and Sports Authority. Gonzalez was indicted for the
Hannaford breach in August.
Gonzalez is scheduled for sentencing in
March, and his lawyer plans to argue that he should spend fewer than 25
years in jail considering his prior drug use and a psychiatrist's
report that he may have Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism,
according to the AP.
• • •
Texas Study Confirms
Lower Autism Rate In Hispanics
From the postchronicle.com is.gd/5GMGk
Hispanic kids are less likely than their
non-Hispanic white counterparts to be diagnosed with autism, and
socioeconomic factors don't seem to explain the difference, according
to a new study in Texas schoolchildren.
"These findings raise questions: Is
autism under diagnosed among Hispanics? Are there protective factors
associated with Hispanic ethnicity?" Dr. Raymond F. Palmer of the
University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and his
colleagues write in the American Journal of Public Health.
Other research has shown a lower risk of
autism among Hispanic individuals, while one study found that Hispanics
with autism were typically diagnosed later than autistic children of
other ethnic backgrounds. Autism could be under diagnosed among
Hispanics, Palmer and his team note, given that these children are less
likely to have health insurance and more likely to have trouble
accessing medical care.
To investigate the factors behind the
difference in prevalence, the researchers looked at data on 1,184
schools in 254 Texas counties, calculating the number of children in
kindergarten through 12th grade in each district who had been diagnosed
For every 10 percent increase in
Hispanic schoolchildren in a given district, the researchers found, the
prevalence of autism decreased by 11 percent, while the prevalence of
kids with intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities increased
by 8 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
The reverse was seen as the percentage
of non-Hispanic white children in a district increased, with the
prevalence of autism rising by 9 percent and the prevalence of
intellectual and learning disabilities falling by 11 percent and 2
The observed relationships remained for
Hispanic children after the researchers accounted for key socioeconomic
and health care provider factors, although "urbanicity" of a district,
median household income, and number of health care professionals did
explain the increased percentage of autism among districts with more
non-Hispanic white kids -- a finding the researchers call "curious."
Whether lower autism prevalence in
Hispanics is attributable to other, still-unexamined socioeconomic,
health care delivery or biological factors "remains a crucial area for
further research," Palmer and colleagues conclude.
SOURCE: American Journal of Public
Health, December 2009.
• • •
Vaccine 'Holy War' - Parents Sue Diocese
By Dareh Gregorian is.gd/5GKm2
A devout Rockland County couple is
suing the New York Archdiocese for barring their daughter from
attending a Catholic preschool because she hasn't been fully vaccinated.
The couple, who filed the suit
anonymously, charges they're being subjected to religious
discrimination and are seeking a court order allowing their 4-year-old
to attend the St. Margaret School in Pearl River after the archdiocese
turned down their request for a religious exemption.
"Plaintiffs sought the exemption because
they hold sincere and genuine religious beliefs, based upon Christian
doctrine and Christian teachings that are contrary to vaccinating, that
prevent them from injecting diseases into their bodies," the suit says.
They also cite a moral objection to how
the vaccines were created.
"Jane Doe's" dad said his daughter had
received some vaccinations as a baby, but they halted them because it
"felt wrong." He said those feelings were borne out when they did more
research about vaccines and discovered that many are grown in cell
cultures that were obtained from two human fetuses that were aborted in
1964 and 1970.
In an affidavit, Doe's mom said, "I am
pro-life and have sincere and genuine religious beliefs that are
contrary to vaccinating because aborted fetal cells are used in
The couple applied to St. Margaret in
January. While other archdioceses around the country allow religious
exemptions from vaccinations, the school follows the tenets of the New
York Archdiocese, which does not.
"For the safety and well-being of our
students and school communities, we do have a policy that all students
receive vaccinations. All of our parents agree to this as a condition
to sending their child to one of our schools," said Joe Zwilling, a
spokesman for the archdiocese.
Doe's dad, who said he has no issue with
reactive medicine, said clashing with the Archdiocese "has been one of
the most stressful things we've ever dealt with in our lives, and I'm a
• • •
Registration Continues for Anaheim Autism/Asperger Conference Set for
Practical information for children and
adults of all ages and abilities
Join us for this comprehensive Autism
conference series in Southern California for parents, teachers, SLPs,
other professionals and individuals on the spectrum. This year's event
features more than 30 speakers. CEUs for professional development are
When: Saturday & Sunday Feb. 6-7,
2010 Where: Anaheim Convention Center (3rd floor) 800 W. Katella Ave.,
Anaheim, CA, 92802 Learn more & Register Online is.gd/5GMZ3
• • •
Living With Autism - A Mother's Christmas Call
By Vanessa De La Torre, The Hartford
The clop-clop and bells of the
horse-drawn carriage were enough to compete with the Christmas
carolers, the theater actors in Dickensian costume, even the hefty
SpongeBob offering high-fives to passers-by.
Parents and children buzzed when the
carriage traveled down natty Blue Back Square for the holiday stroll
this month. Some waved at the riders.
But not Ben Borré.
"Look, Benny! Horses!" shouted his
The 8-year-old glanced in the general
direction before returning to the cotton candy that tinged his lips
blue. Not long ago, Ben tried to eat fiberglass insulation from the
basement ceiling panels in his home because it looked like cotton candy.
The Borrés moved through the crowds that
night with the light, grateful step of a family that doesn't get out
much. Alex Borré, 45, an attorney for the Social Security
Administration, sought hot chocolate and held Benny's hand. Lila, a 2
1/2 -year-old adopted from Guatemala, was ecstatic on Darlene's
Ben followed with worried eyes, often
staring into the distance as if hopelessly trapped in a maze.
'Not Prepared' Christmas is a holiday
for children. This year we were not prepared to deal with a
children-centered holiday. All year long we all rejoice in Ben's gains,
no matter how small. We brainstorm, trying to figure out how best to
get through to him. And each month of each year we realize how
challenged Ben really is. ...
No curiosity with the Christmas
wrapping, no smiles when he recognizes a favorite stuffed animal. ...
No "I love you." No jumping into our bed when he wakes up in the
morning. Mostly, he screams. But we don't focus on that.
— From the Borrés' letter to relatives
post-Christmas 2005, explaining why they didn't celebrate the holiday
Darlene Borré, 42, has curled her hand
into a fist and struck her chin again and again, as her son does. With
the same hand she has formed an "OK" sign and peered through the "O"
while bumping the thumb against her mouth.
When Benny gazes out the family room
window, ignoring a Santa decoration inches from his face, she tries to
see what he sees, to feel what he might be feeling.
The autism that took her son's words as
a baby also snatched mastery of his limbs and movements. Ben can't
write his own letter to Santa. The second-grader at Whiting Lane
Elementary School can't write his name.
Sometimes, it seems as if his hands are
numb. He'll slap his calloused palms together and wring so hard it
sounds like chafing rubber.
"I ache, I bleed for him, because he is
in so much discomfort," Darlene said one recent afternoon. Before Ben's
diagnosis, she was a lawyer like her husband; now, she works as an
insurance adjuster out of the family's two-story colonial on Foot Path
Ben was sick with the flu last week and
sat crying on the couch, unable to say what pained him.
He had been a slow talker as a baby. Ben
would say a few words — mama, dada, yogurt — but being Alex and
Darlene's first child, and the only grandkid in the family, they had no
one to compare him with at first.
Around 15 months is when they noticed a
vacuum of language and that Ben no longer looked them in the eye.
By age 2, it became clear to the Borrés
that Ben needed an assessment from an early intervention group. Darlene
still believed that the test would reveal her beautiful son was a
After learning that Ben was probably
autistic, Darlene often found herself wanting to throttle people who
told her God would not give her more than she could bear.
Ben soon began applied behavior
analysis, the standard method of teaching kids with autism, a
mysterious developmental disorder of the brain that ranges in severity
and affects more boys than girls. Basic tasks are broken down into
minute steps, each followed with a reward — blowing bubbles maybe, or
snacking on a small cookie. It took months to teach Ben how to nod his
head yes or no.
Darlene and Alex felt, and still do,
that a spark in curiosity could be a gateway for Ben. And so came a
false sense of hope in 2004, when Ben became interested in Christmas
lights on the family tree. He was 3 and seemed fascinated with the
brightness, inching his face closer and closer until, one day, he
chomped on the glass.
He got two bites before his mother
reached her finger into his mouth before he bled.
"I'm right there and I know he does
things like this, so you'd think I could anticipate it," Darlene said.
+ Read more: is.gd/5GJGB
[Thanks to Karen Lepak.]
• • •
Carmel Wakefield Speaks Out on
Pending GMC Decision
Below is an excerpt from Autism File
magazine by Carrmel Wakefield, wife of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Read
Mrs. Wakefield's complete, heartfelt message here.
By Carmel Wakefield ...To get us in the
mood for Christmas we have just been told that the longest GMC hearing
in history is grinding towards a decision on the facts - the GMC’s
complaint against my husband Andy Wakefield and his two colleagues
Professors Walker Smith and Murch. The sixth anniversary of the
complaint being made by the freelance reporter, Brian Deer, will be in
February; the GMC hearing itself has lasted over 2 and a half years. At
the time of writing, the date for a verdict to be “handed down” has
been set for January 29th 2010 but that date has shifted three times in
less than 10 days.
It is very sad on so many levels.
Obviously on a highly personal level, we have had to live with the
shadow of the sword for a ridiculously long time but it goes much
further than that. Think of the financial cost of this travesty of an
inquiry: three barristers for the GMC, two barristers for each of the
three defendants, at least one solicitor per defendant and a couple for
the GMC for good measure. Add to the mix the cost of the panel’s
remittance and their expenses - six lots of them - and of course the
GMC administrative staff assigned to this case, both in Manchester and
London; heat, light - the show goes on and on and multiplying that,
brings a mind boggling total in the millions of Great British Pounds.
It may console you to know that the dosh
is out of the pockets of doctors, rather than yourselves, which in this
context, would make it totally unbearable. Nonetheless it is hard
earned money, which has been poured straight down the drain. Money,
which if used for research might have delivered critical results that
could already be impacting on your children’s lives. What a waste of
time, emotion, effort and money.
Whatever the verdict in this case, there
will be no winners: not a single one...
+ Read more: www.rescuepost.com/files/carmelwakefield1.pdf
Note: The opinions expressed in COMMENTARY are those of
the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Schafer
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