Brainwave Measurements An Early Indicator Of Autism

Researchers in Japan have identified gamma oscillations in the brain as a potential diagnostic for autism spectrum disorder in children.

AsianScientist (Oct. 30, 2018) – A team of scientists at Kanazawa University, Japan, has found a brainwave pattern that could be used to diagnose autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. Their findings are published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

ASD, a neurodevelopmental disorder that can impair communication ability, socialization and verbal and motor skills, generally starts in early childhood and is diagnosed through behavior observation. This means that assessment of the condition can be imprecise, which is especially problematic when early identification is vital for developmental follow-up. A strong need therefore exists for objective and measurable clinical indicators, known as biomarkers.

In this study, scientists led by Professor Mitsuru Kikuchi of Kanazawa University in Japan have identified a biomarker for ASD based on motor-related brain activity. They hypothesized that ASD results from an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory signals in the brain, which is associated with repetitive brainwaves called gamma oscillations.

To explore the association between motor-induced gamma oscillations and ASD, the researchers recruited two groups of children aged five to seven years old. Children in the first group were conventionally diagnosed with ASD, while the second group was made up of children classified as developing typically.

The children each performed a video game-like task, where they had to press a button with their right finger while in a relaxed environment. The researchers used magnetoencephalography, a technique which records magnetic activity from neurons, to monitor the children’s brainwaves during the task.

“We measured the button response time, motor-evoked magnetic fields and motor-related gamma oscillations,” said Kikuchi.

The researchers noticed a considerably lower peak frequency of the gamma oscillations in the ASD group. A lower peak frequency of motor-related gamma oscillations also signaled lower concentrations of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which has been found to be associated with ASD.

These findings also suggest that there is delayed development of motor control in young children with ASD. Collectively, the behavioral performance and brainwave findings offer promise for ASD diagnosis, said the researchers.

“Early diagnosis of ASD is highly important so that we can actively manage the disorder as soon as possible,” said study fist author Dr. An Kyung-min of Kanazawa University. “These findings may prove to be extremely useful in helping us understand the neurophysiological mechanism behind social and motor control development in children with ASD. Using magnetoencephalography in this way gives us a noninvasive and quantifiable biomarker, which is something we are in great need of.”

The article can be found at: An et al. (2018) Altered Gamma Oscillations during Motor Control in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Source: Kanazawa University; Photo: Shutterstock.
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