Neural correlates of eye gaze processing in the infant broader autism phenotype.
BACKGROUND: Studies of infant siblings of children diagnosed with autism have allowed for a prospective approach to study the emergence of autism in infancy and revealed early behavioral characteristics of the broader autism phenotype. In view of previous findings of atypical eye gaze processing in children and adults with autism, the aim of this study was to examine the early autism phenotype in infant siblings of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (sib-ASD), focusing on the neural correlates of direct compared with averted gaze. METHODS: A group of 19 sib-ASD was compared with 17 control infants with no family history of ASD (mean age=10 months) on their response to direct versus averted gaze in static stimuli. RESULTS: Relative to the control group, the sib-ASD group showed prolonged latency of the occipital P400 event-related potentials component in response to direct gaze, but they did not differ in earlier components. Similarly, time-frequency analysis of high-frequency oscillatory activity in the gamma band showed group differences in response to direct gaze, where induced gamma activity was late and less persistent over the right temporal region in the sib-ASD group. CONCLUSION: This study suggests that a broader autism phenotype, which includes an atypical response to direct gaze, is manifest early in infancy.