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Autism linked to mirror neuron dysfunction

) and 10 age- and gender-matched control subjects.

The EEG data was analyzed for mu rhythm suppression. Mu rhythm, a human brain-wave pattern, is suppressed or blocked when the brain is engaged in doing, seeing or imagining action, and correlates with the activity of the mirror neuron system. In most people, the mu wave is suppressed both in response to their own movement and to observing the movement of others.

Subjects were tested while they moved their own hands and while they watched videos of visual white noise (baseline), of bouncing balls (non-biologic motion) and of a moving hand.

As expected, mu wave suppression was recorded in the control subjects both when they moved and when they watched another human move. In other words, their mirror neuron systems acted normally. The mirror neurons of the subjects with autism spectrum disorders, however, responded anomalously only to their own movement.

"The findings provide evidence that individuals with autism have a dysfunctional mirror neuron system, which may contribute to many of their impairments especially those that involve comprehending and responding appropriately to others' behavior," said Lindsay Oberman, first author of the paper and UCSD doctoral student working in the labs of senior authors V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Jaime Pineda, director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.

The current study, the researchers say, adds to understanding the neural basis of autism and may point the way to early diagnosis and to potential therapies.

A first step, Ramachandran said, might be to test those individuals who seem to have a greater genetic likelihood of autism: the younger siblings of those already diagnosed.

Though EEG is not at present designed to measure the brain rhythms of low-functioning autistics whose many repetitive movements confound EEG signals and where mental retardation also plays a
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Contact: Inga Kiderra
ikiderra@ucsd.edu
858-822-0661
University of California - San Diego
29-Mar-2005


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