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A Review of Default Mode Network Connectivity and Its Association With Social Cognition in Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder and Early-Onset Psychosis.


Recent studies have demonstrated substantial phenotypic overlap, notably social impairment, between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia. However, the neural mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of social impairments across these distinct neuropsychiatric disorders has not yet been fully examined. Most neuroimaging studies to date have focused on adults with these disorders, with little known about the neural underpinnings of social impairments in younger populations. Here, we present a narrative review of the literature available through April 2020 on imaging studies of adolescents with either ASD or early-onset psychosis (EOP), to better understand the shared and unique neural mechanisms of social difficulties across diagnosis from a developmental framework. We specifically focus on functional connectivity studies of the default mode network (DMN), as the most extensively studied brain network relevant to social cognition across both groups. Our review included 29 studies of DMN connectivity in adolescents with ASD (Mean age range = 11.2-21.6 years), and 14 studies in adolescents with EOP (Mean age range = 14.2-24.3 years). Of these, 15 of 29 studies in ASD adolescents found predominant underconnectivity when examining DMN connectivity. In contrast, findings were mixed in adolescents with EOP, with five of 14 studies reporting DMN underconnectivity, and an additional six of 14 studies reporting both under- and over-connectivity of the DMN. Specifically, intra-DMN networks were more frequently underconnected in ASD, but overconnected in EOP. On the other hand, inter-DMN connectivity patterns were mixed (both under- and over-connected) for each group, especially DMN connectivity with frontal, sensorimotor, and temporoparietal regions in ASD, and with frontal, temporal, subcortical, and cerebellar regions in EOP. Finally, disrupted DMN connectivity appeared to be associated with social impairments in both groups, less so with other features distinct to each condition, such as repetitive behaviors/restricted interests in ASD and hallucinations/delusions in EOP. Further studies on demographically well-matched groups of adolescents with each of these conditions are needed to systematically explore additional contributing factors in DMN connectivity patterns such as clinical heterogeneity, pubertal development, and medication effects that would better inform treatment targets and facilitate prediction of outcomes in the context of these developmental neuropsychiatric conditions.

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