Cerebello-striatal connectivity and implicit learning in autism spectrum disorders



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Previous studies have indicated that persons with autism spectrum disorder have distinct cerebella, striatum, and an impaired ability to anticipate implicit learning sequences; also, previous research indicates anatomic connections among these regions. Investigating distinctions in connectivity and impairments in the ability to anticipate implicit sequences linked to ASD would help clarify some of the core deficits associated with the disorder. This dissertation sought to explore differences in functional connectivity among the cerebellum, thalamus, and striatum. This dissertation also sought to determine if an impaired ability to anticipate implicit sequences is associated with ASD. Twelve ASD participants and 11 control participants were scanned using an MRI while engaged in a modified serial reaction task. The findings indicate that the cerebellum and the striatum are functionally connected and the thalamus mediates this connection. The results indicate that ASD participants have stronger connections than the control, and ASD participants demonstrated some impairments in learning. However, there was not enough evidence to link ASD to an impaired ability to anticipate implicit sequences. This dissertation recommends that future studies consider the roles that these distinct connections play in symptoms of ASD.