Activation of the fusiform gyrus when individuals with autism spectrum disorder view faces

Nouchine Hadjikhani, Robert M. Joseph, Josh Snyder, Christopher F. Chabris, Jill Clark, Shelly Steele, Lauren McGrath, Mark Vangel, Itzhak Aharon, Eric Feczko, Gordon J. Harris, Helen Tager-Flusberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

282 Scopus citations


Prior imaging studies have failed to show activation of the fusiform gyrus in response to emotionally neutral faces in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) [Critchley et al., Brain 124 (2001) 2059; Schultz et al., Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 57 (2000) 331]. However, individuals with ASD do not typically exhibit the striking behavioral deficits that might be expected to result from fusiform gyrus damage, such as those seen in prosopagnosia, and their deficits appear to extend well beyond face identification to include a wide range of impairments in social perceptual processing. In this study, our goal was to further assess the question of whether individuals with ASD have abnormal fusiform gyrus activation to faces. We used high-field (3 T) functional magnetic resonance imaging to study face perception in 11 adult individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 10 normal controls. We used face stimuli, object stimuli, and sensory control stimuli (Fourier scrambled versions of the face and object stimuli) containing a fixation point in the center to ensure that participants were looking at and attending to the images as they were presented. We found that individuals with ASD activated the fusiform face area and other brain areas normally involved in face processing when they viewed faces as compared to non-face stimuli. These data indicate that the face-processing deficits encountered in ASD are not due to a simple dysfunction of the fusiform area, but to more complex anomalies in the distributed network of brain areas involved in social perception and cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1141-1150
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2004
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NIH grant PO1/U19 DC 03610, which is part of the NICHD/NIDCD funded Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism, to Helen Tager-Flusberg and by NIH grant RO1 NS44824-01 to Nouchine Hadjikhani. It was also supported in part by the National Center for Research Resources (P41RR14075) and the Mental Illness and Neuroscience Discovery (MIND) Institute. We thank Dr G. Ganis for helping in the preparation of the Fourier scrambled stimuli and two anonymous reviewers for their very constructive comments.


  • Asperger disorder
  • Autism
  • Face perception
  • Fusiform gyrus
  • Visual processing


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