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Postdoctoral Fellowship in Psychophysiological Approaches to the Study of Autism

State/Province Full: 
United States

Electrophysiological methods offer a window into the neural signals within the brains of people with autism. Dr. Webb's lab has been using two such methods: event-related potentials (ERPs) to describe cognitive and perceptual processes, and electroencephalography (EEG) to describe neural connectivity. These non-invasive methods are sensitive to the moment-to-moment changes in neural activity, and some of the neural activity patterns obtained may serve as signatures of autism by revealing how the brains in people with autism process social and linguistic signals and integrate sensory stimuli. This project tests whether these methods can reveal risk for autism in infants, with the goal of improving early detection. Dr. Webb's post-doctoral fellow will obtain ERP and EEG measures in 200 infant siblings of children with autism at 6 and 12 months of age. Then they will be followed to 2 years of age, when it will be determined which children developed autism. The ERP and EEG signals will then be compared between those who developed autism and those who did not, to see if there were differences in activity patterns when they were infants. Specifically, infant ERP signals to social stimuli (faces and facial expressions) will be compared between those who developed autism, those who did not, and in non-risk infants. Similar comparisons will be made for EEG signal synchronization, which reflects connectivity across different brain areas. What this means for people with autism: These studies may identify neural signatures of autism risk in infants, thus improving early detection methods. These methods also hold promise for identifying endophenotypes based on neural activity patterns that will be useful in genetic studies of autism. [BSRC]