Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social cognition at its core. Human and animal studies converge in the existence of a network of key brain structures involved in the perception, integration, and coding of social cues. These structures mainly involve areas traditionally associated with cognitive function, such as the prefrontal cortex; processing of emotions, such as the amygdala; and motivation and reward, such as the nucleus accumbens. The cerebellum, conventionally associated with motor functions, is lately being considered as a key structure within the social circuitry. Cerebellar neuroanatomical alterations are among the most replicated findings in postmortem brain samples of patients with autism. In addition, cerebellar defects have been proposed to affect the functioning of distal brain areas to which the cerebellum projects. In fact, animal studies support the inclusion of the cerebellum as part of the brain network regulating social cognition and provide a mechanistic tool to study its function within the social network. In this chapter, we review current evidence from human and animal studies, opening a new avenue for further research.
Part of the book: Behavioral Neuroscience