Reduced hippocampal functional connectivity during episodic memory retrieval in autism

Cooper, R.A., Richter, F.R., Bays, P.M., Plaisted-Grant, K.C., Baron-Cohen, S., & Simons, J.S. (2017). Cerebral Cortex, 27, 888-902.

Increasing recent research has sought to understand the recollection impairments experienced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here, we tested whether these memory deficits reflect a reduction in the probability of retrieval success or in the precision of memory representations. We also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the neural mechanisms underlying memory encoding and retrieval in ASD, focusing particularly on the functional connectivity of core episodic memory networks. Adults with ASD and typical control participants completed a memory task that involved studying visual displays and subsequently using a continuous dial to recreate their appearance. The ASD group exhibited reduced retrieval success, but there was no evidence of a difference in retrieval precision. fMRI data revealed similar patterns of brain activity and functional connectivity during memory encoding in the 2 groups, though encoding-related lateral frontal activity predicted subsequent retrieval success only in the control group. During memory retrieval, the ASD group exhibited attenuated lateral frontal activity and substantially reduced hippocampal connectivity, particularly between hippocampus and regions of the fronto-parietal control network. These findings demonstrate notable differences in brain function during episodic memory retrieval in ASD and highlight the importance of functional connectivity to understanding recollection-related retrieval deficits in this population.