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Diminished neural adaptation during implicit learning in autism
journal contributionposted on 01.01.2016, 00:00 by Sarah Schipul, Marcel Just
Neuroimaging studies have shown evidence of disrupted neural adaptation during learning in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in several types of tasks, potentially stemming from frontal-posterior cortical underconnectivity (Schipul et al., 2012). The aim of the current study was to examine neural adaptations in an implicit learning task that entails participation of frontal and posterior regions. Sixteen high-functioning adults with ASD and sixteen neurotypical control participants were trained on and performed an implicit dot pattern prototype learning task in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session. During the preliminary exposure to the type of implicit prototype learning task later to be used in the scanner, the ASD participants took longer than the neurotypical group to learn the task, demonstrating altered implicit learning in ASD. After equating task structure learning, the two groups' brain activation differed during their learning of a new prototype in the subsequent scanning session. The main findings indicated that neural adaptations in a distributed task network were reduced in the ASD group, relative to the neurotypical group, and were related to ASD symptom severity. Functional connectivitywas reduced and did not change as much during learning for the ASD group, andwas related to ASD symptomseverity. These findings suggest that individualswith ASD showaltered neural adaptations during learning, as seen in both activation and functional connectivity measures. This finding suggestswhy many real-world implicit learning situations may pose special challenges for ASD.