The Mid-Fusiform Sulcus in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Establishing a Novel Anatomical Landmark Related to Face Processing

Academic Article


  • Abstract: Despite decades of research, the brain basis of aberrant face processing in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remains a topic of debate. The mid-fusiform sulcus (MFS), a minor feature of the ventral occipitotemporal cortex, provides new directions for studying face processing. The MFS closely aligns with face-selective cortical patches and other structural and functional divisions of the fusiform gyrus; however, it has received little attention in clinical populations. We collected structural MRI data from 54 individuals with ASD and 61 age-and-IQ-matched controls ages 8 to 40 years. The MFS was identified on cortical surface reconstructions via 4 trained raters and classified into known surface patterns. Mean MFS gray matter volume (GMV), cortical surface area (SA), cortical thickness (CT), and standard deviation of CT (CT SD) were extracted. Effects of diagnosis, age, and hemisphere on MFS surface presentation and morphometry were assessed via multinomial logistic regression and mixed effects general linear modeling, respectively. The MFS was reliably identified in 97% of hemispheres examined. Macroanatomical patterns and age-related decreases in MFS GMV and CT were similar between groups. CT SD was greater in the left hemisphere in ASD. Participants' ability to interpret emotions and mental states from facial features was significantly negatively correlated with MFS CT and CT SD. Overall, the MFS is a stable feature of the fusiform gyrus in ASD and CT related measures appear to be sensitive to diagnosis and behavior. These results can inform future investigations of face processing and structure–function relationships in populations with social deficits. Lay Summary: A small structural feature of the brain related to seeing faces (the mid-fusiform sulcus; MFS) appears similar in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and neurotypical development; however, the thickness of this structure on the left side of the brain is more variable in ASD. People who are better at judging mental states from another person's eyes tend to have thinner and less variable MFS. This feature may teach us more about face processing and how brain structure influences function in ASD.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Ammons CJ; Winslett ME; Bice J; Patel P; May KE; Kana RK
  • Start Page

  • 53
  • End Page

  • 64
  • Volume

  • 14
  • Issue

  • 1