Inflexible neurobiological signatures precede atypical development in infants at high risk for autism

Denisova, Kristina; Zhao, Guihu

Variability in neurobiological signatures is ubiquitous in early life but the link to adverse developmental milestones in humans is unknown. We examined how levels of signal and noise in movement signatures during the 1st year of life constrain early development in 71 healthy typically developing infants, either at High or Low familial Risk (HR or LR, respectively) for developing Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Delays in early learning developmental trajectories in HR infants (validated in an analysis of 1,445 infants from representative infant-sibling studies) were predicted by worse stochastic patterns in their spontaneous head movements as early as 1–2 months after birth, relative to HR infants who showed more rapid developmental progress, as well as relative to all LR infants. While LR 1–2 mo-old infants’ movements were significantly different during a language listening task compared to during sleep, HR infants’ movements were more similar during both conditions, a striking lack of diversity that reveals context-inflexible experience of ambient information. Contrary to expectation, it is not the level of variability per se that is particularly detrimental in early life. Rather, inflexible sensorimotor systems and/or atypical transition between behavioral states may interfere with the establishment of capacity to extract structure and important cues from sensory input at birth, preceding and contributing to an atypical brain developmental trajectory in toddlerhood.


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September 13, 2017