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Table 2 Neurocognitive domains, underlying brain networks, and neurotransmitter systems

From: The EU-AIMS Longitudinal European Autism Project (LEAP): design and methodologies to identify and validate stratification biomarkers for autism spectrum disorders

Cognitive domains Brain network Neurotransmitter
Theory of mind Mentalising network [76, 78]; dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, ventro-medial prefrontal cortex, R/L temporal-parietal junction, posterior superior temporal sulcus posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, R/L anterior temporal lobe, L temporal pole, cerebellar regions ND
Emotion recognition/emotional reactivity The corticolimbic circuit; amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, lateral prefrontal cortex 5-HT, DA, OT, endocannabinoids
Social motivation/social reward sensitivity Brain reward network: ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens [114], ventral medial prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, midbrain; social reward processing further relies on connections to modality specific social information, e.g. right fusiform gyrus implicated in processing faces OT/AVP, DA
Executive function Cognitive control network: prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, striatum, posterior parietal cortex
Working memory: dorsolateral prefrontal (DLPFC), posterior cingulate and parietal cortices
Weak central coherence Neurobiological underpinnings are not yet fully understood. R DLPFC, parietal cortex, R ventral occipital cortex (vOcc) [115]; broadly consistent with long-range under-connectivity and short-range over-connectivity ND
Systemizing Not tested  
Top-down processing/predictive coding Predictive coding in perception/cognition assumes a hierarchical processing stream and the interplay between feed-forward (bottom-up) and backward (top-down) connections. In a related model predominantly bottom-up-directed gamma-band oscillations are controlled by predominantly top-down-directed alpha-beta-band influences. Not directly tested in ASD. DA, Ach,
NMDA signalling
  1. Act acetylcholine, AVP arginine vasopressin, DA dopamine, GABA gamma-aminobutyric acid, MAOA monoamine oxidase, NMDA N-methyl-d-aspartate, ND not determined, OT oxytocin, 5-HT 5-hydroxytryptamine, serotoni