Research Advances > Biomarkers > Responses to happy faces

Autism Biomarker Candidates

Brain activity when looking at happy faces

The inability to perceive social cues is a key characteristic of autism. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have found that children from families with a history of Autism Spectrum Disorders (whether or not the child is affected by an ASD) do not show as much brain activity as controls when looking at a picture of a happy person’s face.1 The researchers suggest that this method can be used to screen children for the risk of familial ASD.

One caveat to this type of screening procedure is that fMRI is an expensive technology that is not practical to use on a regular or large-scale basis.

  1. Spencer MD, Holt RJ, Chura LR, Suckling J, Calder AJ, Bullmore ET, Baron-Cohen S (2011) A novel functional brain imaging endophenotype of autism: the neural response to facial expression of emotion. Transl Psychiatr 1:e19.