The influence of age and ASD on verbal fluency networks

Leslie C. Baxter, Ashley Nespodzany, M. J.M. Walsh, Emily Wood, Christopher J. Smith, B. Blair Braden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: The integrity and connectivity of the frontal lobe, which subserves fluency, may be compromised by both ASD and aging. Alternate networks often integrate to help compensate for compromised functions during aging. We used network analyses to study how compensation may overcome age-related compromised in individuals with ASD. Method: Participants consisted of middle-aged (40–60; n = 24)or young (18–25; n = 18)right-handed males who have a diagnosis of ASD, and age- and IQ-matched control participants (n = 20, 14, respectively). All performed tests of language and executive functioning and a fluency functional MRI task. We first used group individual component analysis (ICA)for each of the 4 groups to determine whether different networks were engaged. An SPM analysis was used to compare activity detected in the network nodes from the ICA analyses. Results: The individuals with ASD performed more slowly on two cognitive tasks (Stroop word reading and Trailmaking Part A). The 4 groups engaged different networks during the fluency fMRI task despite equivalent performance. Comparisons of specific regions within these networks indicated younger individuals had greater engagement of the thalamus and supplementary speech area, while older adults engaged the superior temporal gyrus. Individuals with ASD did not disengage from the Default Mode Network during word generation. Conclusion: Interactions between diagnosis and aging were not found in this study of young and middle-aged men, but evidence for differential engagement of compensatory networks was observed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-62
Number of pages11
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
StatePublished - Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • ASD
  • Aging
  • Compensation
  • Fluency
  • Word generation
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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