Infant Neural Sensitivity to Dynamic Eye Gaze Is Associated with Later Emerging Autism

Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK.
Current biology: CB (Impact Factor: 9.92). 02/2012; 22(4):338-42. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.12.056
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Autism spectrum disorders (henceforth autism) are diagnosed in around 1% of the population [1]. Familial liability confers risk for a broad spectrum of difficulties including the broader autism phenotype (BAP) [2, 3]. There are currently no reliable predictors of autism in infancy, but characteristic behaviors emerge during the second year, enabling diagnosis after this age [4, 5]. Because indicators of brain functioning may be sensitive predictors, and atypical eye contact is characteristic of the syndrome [6-9] and the BAP [10, 11], we examined whether neural sensitivity to eye gaze during infancy is associated with later autism outcomes [12, 13]. We undertook a prospective longitudinal study of infants with and without familial risk for autism. At 6-10 months, we recorded infants' event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to viewing faces with eye gaze directed toward versus away from the infant [14]. Longitudinal analyses showed that characteristics of ERP components evoked in response to dynamic eye gaze shifts during infancy were associated with autism diagnosed at 36 months. ERP responses to eye gaze may help characterize developmental processes that lead to later emerging autism. Findings also elucidate the mechanisms driving the development of the social brain in infancy.

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