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Nature. 2017 Jul 20;547(7663):340-344. doi: 10.1038/nature22999. Epub 2017 Jul 12.

Infant viewing of social scenes is under genetic control and is atypical in autism.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.
2
Department of Pediatrics, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.
3
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.
4
Pediatric Biostatistics Core, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30307, USA.
5
Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia 30329, USA.
6
Division of Autism &Related Disabilities, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30329, USA.
7
Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30329, USA.

Abstract

Long before infants reach, crawl or walk, they explore the world by looking: they look to learn and to engage, giving preferential attention to social stimuli, including faces, face-like stimuli and biological motion. This capacity-social visual engagement-shapes typical infant development from birth and is pathognomonically impaired in children affected by autism. Here we show that variation in viewing of social scenes, including levels of preferential attention and the timing, direction and targeting of individual eye movements, is strongly influenced by genetic factors, with effects directly traceable to the active seeking of social information. In a series of eye-tracking experiments conducted with 338 toddlers, including 166 epidemiologically ascertained twins (enrolled by representative sampling from the general population), 88 non-twins with autism and 84 singleton controls, we find high monozygotic twin-twin concordance (0.91) and relatively low dizygotic concordance (0.35). Moreover, the characteristics that are the most highly heritable, preferential attention to eye and mouth regions of the face, are also those that are differentially decreased in children with autism (χ2 = 64.03, P < 0.0001). These results implicate social visual engagement as a neurodevelopmental endophenotype not only for autism, but also for population-wide variation in social-information seeking. In addition, these results reveal a means of human biological niche construction, with phenotypic differences emerging from the interaction of individual genotypes with early life experience.

PMID:
28700580
PMCID:
PMC5842695
DOI:
10.1038/nature22999
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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