Objective There is a critical need to identify biomarkers and objective outcome measures that can be used to understand underlying neural mechanisms in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Visual evoked potentials (VEPs) offer a noninvasive technique to evaluate the functional integrity of neural mechanisms, specifically visual pathways, while probing for disease pathophysiology.
Methods Transient VEPs (tVEPs) were obtained from 96 unmedicated children, including 37 children with ASD, 36 typically developing (TD) children, and 23 unaffected siblings (SIBS). A conventional contrast-reversing checkerboard condition was compared to a novel short-duration condition, which was developed to enable objective data collection from severely affected populations who are often excluded from electroencephalographic (EEG) studies.
Results Children with ASD showed significantly smaller amplitudes compared to TD children at two of the earliest critical VEP components, P60-N75 and N75-P100. SIBS showed intermediate responses relative to ASD and TD groups. There were no group differences in response latency. Frequency band analyses indicated significantly weaker responses for the ASD group in bands encompassing gamma-wave activity. Ninety-two percent of children with ASD were able to complete the short-duration condition compared to 68% for the standard condition.
Conclusions The current study establishes the utility of a short-duration tVEP test for use in children at varying levels of functioning and describes neural abnormalities in children with idiopathic ASD. Implications for excitatory/inhibitory balance as well as the potential application of VEP for use in clinical trials are discussed.