Executive function and functional and structural brain differences in middle-age adults with autism spectrum disorder

Brittany Braden, Christopher J. Smith, Amiee Thompson, Tyler K. Glaspy, Emily Wood, Divya Vatsa, Angela E. Abbott, Samuel C. Mcgee, Leslie C. Baxter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    65 Scopus citations


    There is a rapidly growing group of aging adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who may have unique needs, yet cognitive and brain function in older adults with ASD is understudied. We combined functional and structural neuroimaging and neuropsychological tests to examine differences between middle-aged men with ASD and matched neurotypical (NT) men. Participants (ASD, n = 16; NT, n = 17) aged 40–64 years were well-matched according to age, IQ (range: 83–131), and education (range: 9–20 years). Middle-age adults with ASD made more errors on an executive function task (Wisconsin Card Sorting Test) but performed similarly to NT adults on tests of delayed verbal memory (Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test) and local visual search (Embedded Figures Task). Independent component analysis of a functional MRI working memory task (n-back) completed by most participants (ASD = 14, NT = 17) showed decreased engagement of a cortico-striatal-thalamic-cortical neural network in older adults with ASD. Structurally, older adults with ASD had reduced bilateral hippocampal volumes, as measured by FreeSurfer. Findings expand our understanding of ASD as a lifelong condition with persistent cognitive and functional and structural brain differences evident at middle-age. Autism Res 2017, 10: 1945–1959.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1945-1959
    Number of pages15
    JournalAutism Research
    Issue number12
    StatePublished - Dec 2017


    • aging
    • autism
    • diffusion tensor imaging
    • executive function
    • functional connectivity
    • hippocampus
    • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • working memory

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Neuroscience
    • Clinical Neurology
    • Genetics(clinical)


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