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Neuropsychologia. 2010 Dec;48(14):4046-56. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.10.008. Epub 2010 Oct 19.

Contrast sensitivity for motion detection and direction discrimination in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and their siblings.

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Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

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  • Neuropsychologia. 2011 Jun;49(7):2142.


The magnocellular (M) pathway hypothesis proposes that impaired visual motion perception observed in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) might be mediated by atypical functioning of the subcortical M pathway, as this pathway provides the bulk of visual input to cortical motion detectors. To test this hypothesis, we measured luminance and chromatic contrast sensitivity, thought to tap M and Parvocellular (P) pathway processing, respectively. We also tested the hypothesis that motion processing is impaired in ASD using a novel paradigm that measures motion processing while controlling for detectabilty. Specifically, this paradigm compares contrast sensitivity for detection of a moving grating with contrast sensitivity for direction-of-motion discrimination of that same moving grating. Contrast sensitivities from adolescents with ASD were compared to typically-developing adolescents, and also unaffected siblings of individuals with ASD (SIBS). The results revealed significant group differences on P, but not M, pathway processing, with SIBS showing higher chromatic contrast sensitivity than both participants with ASD and TD participants. This atypicality, unique to SIBS, suggests the possible existence of a protective factor in these individuals against developing ASD. The results also revealed impairments in motion perception in both participants with ASD and SIBS, which may be an endophenotype of ASD. This impairment may be driven by impairments in motion detectors and/or by reduced input from neural areas that project to motion detectors, the latter possibility being consistent with the notion of reduced connectivity between neural areas in ASD.

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