Brief report: preliminary evidence of the N170 as a biomarker of response to treatment in autism spectrum disorder

Background: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by primary difficulties in social function. Individuals with ASD display slowed neural processing of faces, as indexed by the latency of the N170, a face-sensitive event-related potential. Currently, there are no objective biomarkers of ASD useful in clinical care or research. Efficacy of behavioral treatment is currently evaluated through subjective clinical impressions. To explore whether the N170 might have utility as an objective index of treatment response, we examined N170 before and after receipt of an empirically validated behavioral treatment in children with ASD. Method: Electroencephalography (EEG) data were obtained on a preliminary cohort of preschool-aged children with ASD before and after a 16-week course of PRT and in a subset of participants in waitlist control (16-weeks before the start of PRT) and follow-up (16-weeks after the end of PRT). EEG was recorded while participants viewed computer-generated faces with neutral and fearful affect. Results: Significant reductions in N170 latency to faces were observed following 16 weeks of PRT intervention. Change in N170 latency was not observed in the waitlist-control condition. Conclusions: This exploratory study offers suggestive evidence that N170 latency may index response to behavioral treatment. Future, more rigorous, studies in larger samples are indicated to evaluate whether the N170 may be useful as a biomarker of treatment response.

Keywords: N170; autism spectrum disoder; biomarker; electroencephalography; pivotal response treatment.