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Event-related brain response abnormalities in autism: evidence for impaired cerebello-frontal spatial attention networks.

Townsend J, Westerfield M, Leaver E, Makeig S, Jung T, Pierce K, Courchesne E
Brain research. Cognitive brain research


Although under some conditions the attention-related late positive event-related potential (ERP) response (LPC) is apparently normal in autism during visual processing, the LPC elicited by visuospatial processing may be compromised. Results from this study provide evidence for abnormalities in autism in two components of the LPC generated during spatial processing. The early frontal distribution of the LPC which may reflect attention orienting was delayed or missing in autistic subjects during conditions in which attention was to peripheral visual fields. The later parietal distribution of the LPC which may be associated with context updating was smaller in amplitude in autistic subjects regardless of attention location. Both abnormalities suggest disruption of function in spatial attention networks in autism. Evidence that the cerebellar abnormalities in autism may underlie these deficits comes from: (1) similar results in ERP responses and spatial attention deficits in patients with cerebellar lesions; (2) brain-behavior correlations in normally functioning individuals associating the size of the posterior cerebellar vermis and the latency of the frontal LPC; and (3) a previously reported complementary correlation between the size of the posterior vermal lobules and spatial orienting speed. Although the scalp-recorded LPC is thought to be cortically generated, it may be modulated by subcortical neural activity. The cerebellum may serve as a modulating influence by affecting the task-related antecedent attentional process. The electrophysiological abnormalities reported here index spatial attention deficits in autism that may reflect cerebellar influence on both frontal and parietal spatial attention function.

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