Attentive brain states in infants with and without later autism
Abstract: Early difficulties in engaging attentive brain states in social settings could affect learning and have cascading effects on social development. We investigated this possibility using multichannel electroencephalography during a face/non-face paradigm in 8-month-old infants with (FH, n = 91) and without (noFH, n = 40) a family history of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). An event-related potential component reflecting attention engagement, the Nc, was compared between FH infants who received a diagnosis of ASD at 3 years of age (FH-ASD; n = 19), FH infants who did not (FH-noASD; n = 72) and noFH infants (who also did not, hereafter noFH-noASD; n = 40). ‘Prototypical’ microstates during social attention were extracted from the noFH-noASD group and examined in relation to later categorical and dimensional outcome. Machine-learning was used to identify the microstate features that best predicted ASD and social adaptive skills at three years. Results suggested that whilst measures of brain state timing were related to categorical ASD outcome, brain state strength was related to dimensional measures of social functioning. Specifically, the FH-ASD group showed shorter Nc latency relative to other groups, and duration of the attentive microstate responses to faces was informative for categorical outcome prediction. Reduced Nc amplitude difference between faces with direct gaze and a non-social control stimulus and strength of the attentive microstate to faces contributed to the prediction of dimensional variation in social skills. Taken together, this provides consistent evidence that atypical attention engagement precedes the emergence of difficulties in socialization and indicates that using the spatio-temporal characteristics of whole-brain activation to define brain states in infancy provides an important new approach to understanding of the neurodevelopmental mechanisms that lead to ASD.
RCUK | Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (ES/R009368/1)