Autism as a neural systems disorder: A theory of frontal-posterior underconnectivity

Marcel Adam Just, Timothy A. Keller, Vicente L. Malave, Rajesh K. Kana, Sashank Varma

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    401 Scopus citations


    The underconnectivity theory of autism attributes the disorder to lower anatomical and functional systems connectivity between frontal and more posterior cortical processing. Here we review evidence for the theory and present a computational model of an executive functioning task (Tower of London) implementing the assumptions of underconnectivity. We make two modifications to a previous computational account of performance and brain activity in typical individuals in the Tower of London task (Newman et al., 2003): (1) the communication bandwidth between frontal and parietal areas was decreased and (2) the posterior centers were endowed with more executive capability (i.e., more autonomy, an adaptation is proposed to arise in response to the lowered frontal-posterior bandwidth). The autism model succeeds in matching the lower frontal-posterior functional connectivity (lower synchronization of activation) seen in fMRI data, as well as providing insight into behavioral response time results. The theory provides a unified account of how a neural dysfunction can produce a neural systems disorder and a psychological disorder with the widespread and diverse symptoms of autism.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1292-1313
    Number of pages22
    JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Apr 2012

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This research was supported by the Autism Centers of Excellence Grant HD055748 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Office of Naval Research Grant N00014-07-1-0041 .


    • 4CAPS
    • Autism
    • Computational model
    • Connectivity
    • FMRI
    • Underconnectivity


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