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Open Access Research

Task-related functional connectivity in autism spectrum conditions: an EEG study using wavelet transform coherence

Ana Catarino12*, Alexandre Andrade2, Owen Churches3, Adam P Wagner14, Simon Baron-Cohen5 and Howard Ring16

Author Affiliations

1 Cambridge Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Group, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18b Trumpington Road, Cambridge, CB2 8AH, UK

2 Institute of Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon, Campo Grande, 1749-016, Lisbon, Portugal

3 University of South Australia, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia

4 National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Peterborough, UK

5 Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18b Trumpington Road, Cambridge, CB2 8AH, UK

6 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital, Fulbourn, Cambridge, CB21 5EF, UK

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Molecular Autism 2013, 4:1  doi:10.1186/2040-2392-4-1

Published: 12 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are a set of pervasive neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by a wide range of lifelong signs and symptoms. Recent explanatory models of autism propose abnormal neural connectivity and are supported by studies showing decreased interhemispheric coherence in individuals with ASC. The first aim of this study was to test the hypothesis of reduced interhemispheric coherence in ASC, and secondly to investigate specific effects of task performance on interhemispheric coherence in ASC.

Methods

We analyzed electroencephalography (EEG) data from 15 participants with ASC and 15 typical controls, using Wavelet Transform Coherence (WTC) to calculate interhemispheric coherence during face and chair matching tasks, for EEG frequencies from 5 to 40 Hz and during the first 400 ms post-stimulus onset.

Results

Results demonstrate a reduction of interhemispheric coherence in the ASC group, relative to the control group, in both tasks and for all electrode pairs studied. For both tasks, group differences were generally observed after around 150 ms and at frequencies lower than 13 Hz. Regarding within-group task comparisons, while the control group presented differences in interhemispheric coherence between faces and chairs tasks at various electrode pairs (FT7-FT8, TP7-TP8, P7-P8), such differences were only seen for one electrode pair in the ASC group (T7-T8). No significant differences in EEG power spectra were observed between groups.

Conclusions

Interhemispheric coherence is reduced in people with ASC, in a time and frequency specific manner, during visual perception and categorization of both social and inanimate stimuli and this reduction in coherence is widely dispersed across the brain.

Results of within-group task comparisons may reflect an impairment in task differentiation in people with ASC relative to typically developing individuals.

Overall, the results of this research support the value of WTC in examining the time-frequency microstructure of task-related interhemispheric EEG coherence in people with ASC.

Keywords:
Autism spectrum conditions; Interhemispheric coherence; Atypical connectivity; Wavelet transform coherence