Intuition and autism: a possible role for Von Economo neurons.
Von Economo neurons (VENs) are a recently evolved cell type which may be involved in the fast intuitive assessment of complex situations. As such, they could be part of the circuitry supporting human social networks. We propose that the VENs relay an output of fronto-insular and anterior cingulate cortex to the parts of frontal and temporal cortex associated with theory-of-mind, where fast intuitions are melded with slower, deliberative judgments. The VENs emerge mainly after birth and increase in number until age 4 yrs. We propose that in autism spectrum disorders the VENs fail to develop normally, and that this failure might be partially responsible for the associated social disabilities that result from faulty intuition.