Repeated exposure to a stimulus results in reduced neural response, or repetition suppression, in brain regions responsible for processing that stimulus. This rapid accommodation to repetition is thought to underlie learning, stimulus selectivity, and strengthening of perceptual expectations. Importantly, reduced sensitivity to repetition has been identified in several neurodevelopmental, learning, and psychiatric disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by challenges in social communication and repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Reduced ability to exploit or learn from repetition in ASD is hypothesized to contribute to sensory hypersensitivities, and parallels several theoretical frameworks claiming that ASD individuals show difficulty using regularities in the environment to facilitate behavior. Using fMRI in autistic and neurotypical human adults (females and males), we assessed the status of repetition suppression across two modalities (vision, audition) and with four stimulus categories (faces, objects, printed words, and spoken words). ASD individuals showed domain-specific reductions in repetition suppression for face stimuli only, but not for objects, printed words, or spoken words. Reduced repetition suppression for faces was associated with greater challenges in social communication in ASD. We also found altered functional connectivity between atypically adapting cortical regions and higher-order face recognition regions, and microstructural differences in related white matter tracts in ASD. These results suggest that fundamental neural mechanisms and system-wide circuits are selectively altered for face processing in ASD and enhance our understanding of how disruptions in the formation of stable face representations may relate to higher-order social communication processes.


D’Mello, A., Frosch, I.R., Meisler, S.L., Grotzinger, H., Perrachione, T.K., & Gabrieli, J.D.E. (2023). Diminished repetition suppression reveals selective and systems-level face processing differences in ASD. Journal of Neuroscience, 43, 1952–1962.

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