The Correlation between a Dysfunctional Mirror Neuron System and Autism Spectrum Disorders

The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Frequently explored in macaque monkeys, the mirror neuron system (MNS) has demonstrated
much influence over the development of behavioral patterns of animals. Since its discovery in
macaque monkeys, research about MNS has extended to the development of humans.
Researchers have deduced that the cognitive functions of MNS are essential for daily learning
and social interactions such as executing imitation, understanding the actions of others, and
expressing empathy. Furthermore, recent research has revealed a potential correlation between
the impairment of these MNS functions in individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum
disorder (ASD). As individuals with ASD progress into adulthood, deficiencies in the functions
controlled by MNS become more apparent such as socialization and communication. When
individuals with ASD perform activities that are regulated by MNS functions, the putative
regions of the brain where these functions are localized reveal little to no activity. Additionally,
the structural development of these putative regions in ASD individuals is atypical compared to
persons without ASD. Particular studies have shown simultaneous activity of another neural
system, known as the mentalizing system, with that of MNS in ASD individuals. The abnormal
levels of crosstalk between the MNS and the mentalizing system appears to be a direction for
further analysis in ASD individuals. This review will mainly explore the relationship between
emergence of ASDs from the dysfunction of the individual’s MNS.

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