Neurology Central

Novel cognitive flexibility model may give insight into autism spectrum disorder

University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences (FL, USA) researchers have recently clarified concepts surrounding cognitive flexibility, the ability to adapt thoughts and behavior to a changing environment, in a paper published in Trends in Neuroscience. The team propose a new model of the underlying neural mechanisms of cognitive flexibility, which may be instrumental in understanding a range of neurological and behavioral disorders.

Cognitive flexibility allows us to change between tasks and respond effectively to new ones and is therefore an important, if not essential, life skill. “Our goal was to summarize and provide directions for future research on a topic that is relevant for understanding several prevalent developmental disorders,” explained first author Dina R Dagani (University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences).

The novel model suggests four components, salience detection/attention, working memory, inhibition and switching, work together to implement cognitive flexibility. If this model is validated it will provide a strong foundation in determining the mechanisms that cause impaired cognitive function.

“By understanding how the brain attempts to implement cognitive flexibility in a neurodevelopmental disorder like autism, we can better understand the nature of the disorder,” emphasized Dagani.

Understanding the nature of the disorder and the mechanisms surrounding it may allow researchers to develop better and more informed strategies for improving cognitive flexibility in individuals with autism. Knowing, for example, whether there is a difference in connectivity between brain regions in autistic and healthy individuals or whether entirely different brain regions are used to implement cognitive flexibility, will affect which strategies are more effective.

Principle investigator Lucina Q Uddin (University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences) concluded: “we believe that a better understanding of the neural systems mediating this critical ability will help clinicians design more effective treatments to help individuals who have difficulty with flexible behaviors in daily life, particularly those with autism.”

The team are now investigating the hypothesis using functional neuroimaging.

Source: University of Miami press release