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In Biological psychiatry. Cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging

BACKGROUND : Functional brain connectivity is altered in children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Functional disruption during infancy could provide earlier markers of ASD, thus providing a crucial opportunity to improve developmental outcomes. Using a whole-brain multivariate approach, we asked whether electroencephalography measures of neural connectivity at 3 months of age predict autism symptoms at 18 months.

METHODS : Spontaneous electroencephalography data were collected from 65 infants with and without familial risk for ASD at 3 months of age. Neural connectivity patterns were quantified using phase coherence in the alpha range (6-12 Hz). Support vector regression analysis was used to predict ASD symptoms at age 18 months, with ASD symptoms quantified by the Toddler Module of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition.

RESULTS : Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule scores predicted by support vector regression algorithms trained on 3-month electroencephalography data correlated highly with Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule scores measured at 18 months (r = .76, p = .02, root-mean-square error = 2.38). Specifically, lower frontal connectivity and higher right temporoparietal connectivity at 3 months predicted higher ASD symptoms at 18 months. The support vector regression model did not predict cognitive abilities at 18 months (r = .15, p = .36), suggesting specificity of these brain patterns to ASD.

CONCLUSIONS : Using a data-driven, unbiased analytic approach, neural connectivity across frontal and temporoparietal regions at 3 months predicted ASD symptoms at 18 months. Identifying early neural differences that precede an ASD diagnosis could promote closer monitoring of infants who show signs of neural risk and provide a crucial opportunity to mediate outcomes through early intervention.

Dickinson Abigail, Daniel Manjari, Marin Andrew, Gaonkar Bilwaj, Dapretto Mirella, McDonald Nicole M, Jeste Shafali


Autism spectrum disorder, Electroencephalography, Functional connectivity, Infancy, Machine learning, Prediction