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PLoS One. 2014 Aug 20;9(8):e105176. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105176. eCollection 2014.

Functional connectivity in the first year of life in infants at risk for autism spectrum disorder: an EEG study.

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Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts, United States of America.
Harvard College Writing Program, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.
Division of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.


In the field of autism research, recent work has been devoted to studying both behavioral and neural markers that may aide in early identification of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These studies have often tested infants who have a significant family history of autism spectrum disorder, given the increased prevalence observed among such infants. In the present study we tested infants at high- and low-risk for ASD (based on having an older sibling diagnosed with the disorder or not) at 6- and 12-months-of-age. We computed intrahemispheric linear coherence between anterior and posterior sites as a measure of neural functional connectivity derived from electroencephalography while the infants were listening to speech sounds. We found that by 12-months-of-age infants at risk for ASD showed reduced functional connectivity compared to low risk infants. Moreover, by 12-months-of-age infants later diagnosed with ASD showed reduced functional connectivity, compared to both infants at low risk for the disorder and infants at high risk who were not later diagnosed with ASD. Significant differences in functional connectivity were also found between low-risk infants and high-risk infants who did not go onto develop ASD. These results demonstrate that reduced functional connectivity appears to be related to genetic vulnerability for ASD. Moreover, they provide further evidence that ASD is broadly characterized by differences in neural integration that emerge during the first year of life.

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