Atypicality of the N170 Event-Related Potential in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-analysis
Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with impaired face processing. The N170 event-related potential (ERP) has been considered a promising neural marker of this impairment. However, no quantitative review to date has integrated the literature to assess whether the N170 response to faces in individuals with ASD differs from that of typically developing (TD) individuals.
Methods: This meta-analysis examined the corpus of literature investigating difference in N170 response to faces in individuals with ASD and without ASD. Data from 23 studies (NASD = 374, NTD = 359) were reviewed. Meta-analysis was used to examine the effect size of the difference in N170 latency and amplitude among individuals with ASD and without ASD. Analyses were also conducted examining hemispheric differences, potential moderators, and publication bias.
Results: On average, N170 latencies to faces were delayed in individuals with ASD, but amplitudes did not differ for individuals with ASD and TD individuals. Moderator analyses revealed that N170 amplitudes were smaller in magnitude in the ASD participants relative to the TD participants in adult samples and in those with higher cognitive ability. However, effects differed as a function of hemisphere of recording. No evidence of publication bias was found.
Conclusions: Atypicality of N170-particularly latency-to faces appears to be a specific biomarker of social-communicative dysfunction in ASD and may relate to differential developmental experiences and use of compensatory cognitive mechanisms. Future research should examine phenotypic differences that contribute to N170 heterogeneity, as well as specificity of N170 differences in ASD versus non-ASD clinical populations, and N170 malleability with treatment.
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD); Electroencephalography (EEG); Event-related potential (ERP); Face processing; Meta-analysis; N170.