July 27, 2018
1 min read

EEG measurements useful in early detection of autism

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Photo of William Bosl
William J. Bosl

An electroencephalogram, or EEG — a low-cost, easy-to-use tool to measure brain electrical activity — may be able to predict future development of autism spectrum disorder in children as early as 3 months of age, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

“The most important outcome of our research is [that] we may begin to develop new therapeutic approaches, aimed not at reversing traits that are present, but aimed to redirect the developing neural circuits to a more typical developmental trajectory,” William J. Bosl, PhD, associate professor of health informatics and clinical psychology at the University of San Francisco, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “All current screening is based on observed behaviors. Our approach measures brain functions directly, and the brain always changes before new behaviors can be observed.”

Researchers enrolled infants (n = 188) for a collaborative longitudinal study conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University. Researchers classified participants as either low-risk controls (n = 89) or at high-risk for autism (n = 99). Low-risk infants had at least one sibling who was developing normally and no first-degree relatives with a known developmental disorder. High-risk infants had an older sibling with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Researchers then collected EEG measurements at 3 months of age until 36 months of age. Using computational algorithms, they analyzed six different frequencies — high gamma, gamma, beta, alpha, theta and delta — which can reflect differences in the brain and how it processes information, according to Bosl.

They found that EEG predicted ASD with high sensitivity and specificity — exceeding 95% at some ages. EEG measurements also accurately predicted the severity of ASD symptoms.

The researchers specifically selected participants with a high probability of developing ASD so that they would have a sufficient amount of serviceable cases to study, according to Bosl.

However, “for clinical application, with the risk of autism recently estimated to be 1 in 59 in the United States, we believe every baby, at every well-baby checkup, should be screened, Bosl said. “With each screening, a risk profile can be created or updated as the baby grows. We also believe that this screening may have applications for detecting many other neurocognitive or mental disorders throughout childhood and into adulthood.” by Melissa Webb

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.