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Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Nov 15;66(10):950-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.07.031. Epub 2009 Sep 18.

Atypical face versus object processing and hemispheric asymmetries in 10-month-old infants at risk for autism.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0109, USA.



Previous studies have documented atypicalities in face/object processing in children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). To investigate whether such atypicalities may reflect a genetically mediated risk factor present early in development, we measured face/object processing in 10-month-old high-risk infants who carry some of the genes associated with ASD because they have an older sibling diagnosed with the disorder.


We employed event-related potentials (ERPs) to measure cortical responses to pictures of faces and objects, the objects being toys. Latencies and amplitudes of four ERP components (P100, N290, P400, and Nc) were compared between 20 high-risk infants and 20 low-risk control subjects (infants with no family history of ASD).


Responses to faces versus objects differed between high- and low-risk infants for the latencies of the N290 and P400. Differences were driven by faster responses to faces than objects in low-risk, but not high-risk, infants (P400) and, conversely, faster responses to objects than faces in high-risk, but not low-risk, infants (N290). Object responses were also faster in high-risk than low-risk infants (both N290 and P400). Left versus right hemisphere responses also differed between high- and low-risk infants for the amplitudes of the P100, N290, and P400; collapsed across faces/objects, low-risk, but not high-risk, infants exhibited hemisphere asymmetries.


Genetic risk for ASD is associated with atypical face versus object processing and an atypical lack of hemispheric asymmetry early in life. These atypicalities might contribute to development of the disorder.

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