The role of the medial temporal lobe in autistic spectrum disorders


Dr Claire Salmond, at *present address below.


The neural basis of autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) is poorly understood. Studies of mnemonic function in ASD suggest a profile of impaired episodic memory with relative preservation of semantic memory (at least in high-functioning individuals). Such a pattern is consistent with developmental hippocampal abnormality. However, imaging evidence for abnormality of the hippocampal formation in ASD is inconsistent. These inconsistencies led us to examine the memory profile of children with ASD and the relationship to structural abnormalities. A cohort of high-functioning individuals with ASD and matched controls completed a comprehensive neuropsychological memory battery and underwent magnetic resonance imaging for the purpose of voxel-based morphometric analyses. Correlations between cognitive/behavioural test scores and quantified results of brain scans were also carried out to further examine the role of the medial temporal lobe in ASD. A selective deficit in episodic memory with relative preservation of semantic memory was found. Voxel-based morphometry revealed bilateral abnormalities in several areas implicated in ASD including the hippocampal formation. A significant correlation was found between parental ratings reflecting autistic symptomatology and the measure of grey matter density in the junction area involving the amygdala, hippocampus and entorhinal cortex. The data reveal a pattern of impaired and relatively preserved mnemonic function that is consistent with a hippocampal abnormality of developmental origin. The structural imaging data highlight abnormalities in several brain regions previously implicated in ASD, including the medial temporal lobes.