Increased scale-free dynamics in salience network in adult high-functioning autism

Stefano Damiani, Andrea Scalabrini, Javier Gomez-Pilar, Natascia Brondino, Georg Northoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is clinically characterized by extremely slow and inflexible behavior. The neuronal mechanisms of these symptoms remain unclear though. Using fMRI, we investigate the resting state's temporal structure in the frequency domain (scale-free activity as measured with Power-Law Exponent, PLE, and Spectral Entropy, SE) and temporal variance (neural variability) in high-functioning, adult ASD comparing them with schizophrenic and neurotypical subjects. We show that ASD is characterized by high PLE in salience network, especially in dorsal anterior cingulate. This increase in PLE was 1) specific for salience network; 2) independent of other measures such as neuronal variability/SD and functional connectivity, which did not show any significant difference; 3) detected in two independent samples of ASD but not in the schizophrenia sample. Among salience network subregions, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex exhibited PLE differences between ASD and neurotypicals in both samples, showing high robustness in ROC curves values. Salience network abnormal temporal structure was confirmed by SE, which was strongly anticorrelated with PLE and thus decreased in ASD. Taken together, our findings show abnormal temporal structure (but normal temporal variance) in resting state salience network in adult high-functioning ASD. The abnormally high PLE indicates a relative predominance of slower over faster frequencies, which may underlie the slow adaptation to unexpected changes and the inflexible behavior observed in autistic individuals. The specificity of abnormal PLE in salience network suggests its potential utility as biomarker in ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101634
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • ASD
  • Power-law exponent
  • Resting state fMRI
  • Salience network
  • Schizophrenia
  • Spectral entropy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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