PURPOSE: We aimed to determine whether Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) would show neural abnormality of the social reward system using functional MRI (fMRI).
MATERIALS AND METHODS: 27 ASDs and 12 typically developing controls (TDCs) participated in this study. The social reward task was developed, and all participants performed the task during fMRI scanning.
RESULTS: ASDs and TDCs with a social reward learning effect were selected on the basis of behavior data. We found significant differences in brain activation between the ASDs and TDCs showing a social reward learning effect. Compared with the TDCs, the ASDs showed reduced activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, right orbitofrontal cortex, right parietal lobe, and occipital lobe; however, they showed increased activity in the right parahippocampal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus.
CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that there might be neural abnormality of the social reward learning system of ASDs. Although this study has several potential limitations, it presents novel findings in the different neural mechanisms of social reward learning in children with ASD and a possible useful biomarker of high-functioning ASDs.