Atypical cortical representation of peripheral visual space in children with an autism spectrum disorder

Authors

  • Hans-Peter Frey,

    Corresponding author
    • Departments of Pediatrics and Neuroscience, The Sheryl and Daniel R. Tishman Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC), Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA
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  • Sophie Molholm,

    1. Departments of Pediatrics and Neuroscience, The Sheryl and Daniel R. Tishman Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC), Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA
    2. Departments of Psychology & Biology, The Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, Program in Cognitive Neuroscience, City College of the City University of New York, New York, NY, USA
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  • Edmund C. Lalor,

    1. Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
    2. School of Engineering, Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
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  • Natalie N. Russo,

    1. Departments of Pediatrics and Neuroscience, The Sheryl and Daniel R. Tishman Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC), Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA
    2. Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA
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  • John J. Foxe

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Psychology & Biology, The Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, Program in Cognitive Neuroscience, City College of the City University of New York, New York, NY, USA
    2. Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
    • Departments of Pediatrics and Neuroscience, The Sheryl and Daniel R. Tishman Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC), Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA
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Correspondences: Dr H.-P. Frey and Dr J. J. Foxe, 1The Sheryl and Daniel R. Tishman Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, as above.

E-mails: john.foxe@einstein.yu.edu and hfrey@einstein.yu.edu

Abstract

A key feature of early visual cortical regions is that they contain discretely organized retinotopic maps. Titration of these maps must occur through experience, and the fidelity of their spatial tuning will depend on the consistency and accuracy of the eye movement system. Anomalies in fixation patterns and the ballistics of eye movements are well documented in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with off-center fixations a hallmark of the phenotype. We hypothesized that these atypicalities might affect the development of visuo-spatial maps and specifically that peripheral inputs might receive altered processing in ASD. Using high-density recordings of visual evoked potentials (VEPs) and a novel system-identification approach known as VESPA (visual evoked spread spectrum analysis), we assessed sensory responses to centrally and peripherally presented stimuli. Additionally, input luminance was varied to bias responsiveness to the magnocellular system, given previous suggestions of magnocellular-specific deficits in ASD. Participants were 22 ASD children (7–17 years of age) and 31 age- and performance-IQ-matched neurotypical controls. Both VEP and VESPA responses to central presentations were indistinguishable between groups. In contrast, peripheral presentations resulted in significantly greater early VEP and VESPA amplitudes in the ASD cohort. We found no evidence that anomalous enhancement was restricted to magnocellular-biased responses. The extent of peripheral response enhancement was related to the severity of stereotyped behaviors and restricted interests, cardinal symptoms of ASD. The current results point to differential visuo-spatial cortical mapping in ASD, shedding light on the consequences of peculiarities in gaze and stereotyped visual behaviors often reported by clinicians working with this population.

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