Brainwave Activity Reveals Potential Biomarker for ASD

Summary: Researchers have identified a possible biomarker that could help expedite ASD diagnosis in children. The study revealed children with autism have lower frequency motor related gamma oscillations.

Source: Kanazawa University.

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

Now, a team of researchers at Kanazawa University in Japan have made an important step towards identifying a biomarker based on motor-related brain activity. Their work followed on from the key hypothesis that autism results from an excitatory and inhibitory imbalance in the brain, which is associated with repetitive brainwaves called gamma oscillations. A reduction in this type of brain activity has been seen during visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation in individuals with ASD.

The researchers set out to further explore motor-induced gamma oscillations in children with ASD, and recently reported their findings in The Journal of Neuroscience.

They formed two groups of children who were 5-7 years old. Those in the first group were conventionally diagnosed with ASD, while the second group was made up of children classed 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. Magnetoencephalography, which records magnetic activity from neurons, was used to monitor the children’s brainwaves during the task.

“We measured the button response time, motor-evoked magnetic fields, and motor-related gamma oscillations,” study corresponding author Mitsuru Kikuchi says. “As found in other studies, the ASD children’s response time was slightly slower and the amplitude in their magnetic fields was a bit decreased. The gamma oscillations were where we saw significant and interesting differences.”

a sleeping child
The video game-like motor task was developed for child participants. Participants performed a videogame-like motor task involving the 100 button-press, while a whole-head MEG child system was recorded. The ASD group (bottom) showed an altered gamma oscillations compared with the TD group (top). image is credited to Kanazawa University.

There was a considerably lower peak frequency of the gamma oscillations in the ASD group. A lower peak frequency of motor-related gamma oscillations also signaled low concentration of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which has also been found associated with ASD. The findings additionally suggest delayed development of motor control in young children with ASD. Collectively the behavioral performance and brainwave findings offer promise for ASD diagnosis.

“Early diagnosis of ASD is highly important so that we can actively manage the disorder as soon as possible,” first author Kyung-min An says. “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.”

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Kanazawa University
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is credited to Kanazawa University.
Original Research: Open access research for “Altered Gamma Oscillations during Motor Control in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder” by Kyung-min An, Takashi Ikeda, Yuko Yoshimura, Chiaki Hasegawa, Daisuke N. Saito, Hirokazu Kumazaki, Tetsu Hirosawa, Yoshio Minabe and Mitsuru Kikuchi in Journal of Neuroscience. Published September 5 2018.

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Kanazawa University”Brainwave Activity Reveals Potential Biomarker for ASD.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 29 October 2018.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Kanazawa University(2018, October 29). Brainwave Activity Reveals Potential Biomarker for ASD. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved October 29, 2018 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Kanazawa University”Brainwave Activity Reveals Potential Biomarker for ASD.” (accessed October 29, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Altered Gamma Oscillations during Motor Control in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism is hypothesized to result in a cortical excitatory and inhibitory imbalance driven by inhibitory interneuron dysfunction, which is associated with the generation of gamma oscillations. On the other hand, impaired motor control has been widely reported in autism. However, no study has focused on the gamma oscillations during motor control in autism. In the present study, we investigated the motor-related gamma oscillations in autism using magnetoencephalography. Magnetoencephalographic signals were recorded from 14 right-handed human children with autism (5 female), aged 5–7 years, and age- and IQ-matched 15 typically developing children during a motor task using their right index finger. Consistent with previous studies, the autism group showed a significantly longer button response time and reduced amplitude of motor-evoked magnetic fields. We observed that the autism group exhibited a low peak frequency of motor-related gamma oscillations from the contralateral primary motor cortex, and these were associated with the severity of autism symptoms. The autism group showed a reduced power of motor-related gamma oscillations in the bilateral primary motor cortex. A linear discriminant analysis using the button response time and gamma oscillations showed a high classification performance (86.2% accuracy). The alterations of the gamma oscillations in autism might reflect the cortical excitatory and inhibitory imbalance. Our findings provide an important clue into the behavioral and neurophysiological alterations in autism and a potential biomarker for autism.

Currently, the diagnosis of autism has been based on behavioral assessments, and a crucial issue in the diagnosis of autism is to identify objective and quantifiable clinical biomarkers. A key hypothesis of the neurophysiology of autism is an excitatory and inhibitory imbalance in the brain, which is associated with the generation of gamma oscillations. On the other hand, motor deficits have also been widely reported in autism. This is the first study to demonstrate low motor performance and altered motor-related gamma oscillations in autism, reflecting a brain excitatory and inhibitory imbalance. Using these behavioral and neurophysiological parameters, we classified autism and control group with good accuracy. This work provides important information on behavioral and neurophysiological alterations in patients with autism.

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