Functional and dysfunctional brain circuits underlying emotional processing of music in autism spectrum disorders

  • Caria A
  • Venuti P
  • De Falco S
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Despite intersubject variability, dramatic impairments of socio-communicative skills are core features of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). A deficit in the ability to express and understand emotions has often been hypothesized to be an important correlate of such impairments. Little is known about individuals with ASD's ability to sense emotions conveyed by nonsocial stimuli such as music. Music has been found to be capable of evoking and conveying strong and consistent positive and negative emotions in healthy subjects. The ability to process perceptual and emotional aspects of music seems to be maintained in ASD. Individuals with ASD and neurotypical (NT) controls underwent a single functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session while processing happy and sad music excerpts. Overall, fMRI results indicated that while listening to both happy and sad music, individuals with ASD activated cortical and subcortical brain regions known to be involved in emotion processing and reward. A comparison of ASD participants with NT individuals demonstrated decreased brain activity in the premotor area and in the left anterior insula, especially in response to happy music excerpts. Our findings shed new light on the neurobiological correlates of preserved and altered emotional processing in ASD.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Asperger
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • emotion
  • fMRI
  • music

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  • Andrea Caria

  • Paola Venuti

  • Simona De Falco

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