In autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the concurrent role of the Central Executive, Saliency, and Social Cognition networks in demanding ecological tasks was unknown. The EcoSupermarketX, a unique task-based fMRI virtual-reality paradigm that mimics a tough daily-life chore that might have provided some challenges to the ones with ASD, was used to answer this question. There were 29 adolescents in total, 15 with ASD and 15 with typical neurodevelopment (TD). During neuroimaging and eye-tracking, they ran the EcoSupermarketX (a shopping simulation with 3 goal-oriented sub-tasks comprising “no cue,” “non-social,” and “social” cues). With matched eye-tracking measures, ASD and TD differed only in total time and distance to complete the “social cue” sub-task. In people with ASD, neuroimaging indicated that social, executive, and saliency circuits were all hyperactive at the same time. ASD, on the other hand, had lower activation in the parahippocampal gyrus, which was implicated in scene identification. ASD adolescents had hyperactivated 3 primary networks: executive, saliency, and social cognition when executing a virtual shopping task that matched the performance of controls. The idea of peaks and valleys of neural recruitment in people with ASD was supported by parahippocampal hypoactivation, which was compatible with facile eidetic scene processing. The hyperactivation/hypoactivation patterns in everyday tasks provided a circuit-level marker of neurological variety in ASD, which could have been used as a target for intervention.

 

Link:jneurodevdisorders.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s11689-022-09417-1