Evidence of Altered Neural Responses to Hearing the Own Name in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 12, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
R. El Kaddouri1, A. D. Nijhof2, J. Goris3, M. Brass3 and J. R. Wiersema4, (1)Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium, (2)Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, United Kingdom, (3)Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium, (4)Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
Background: Diminished responding to hearing the own name in infancy is one of the earliest and strongest predictors of later diagnosis of ASD. Remarkably, as of yet there is no study that systematically investigated the neural correlates of hearing the own name in individuals who received a diagnosis of ASD.

Objectives: Our aim was to study the neural responses, by means of event-related potentials (ERPs), to hearing the own name in children and adults with a formal diagnosis of ASD. Atypical processing of the own name in ASD in childhood and adulthood would suggest that this is related to a fundamental deficit. It may also point to specific mechanisms underlying the lack of response to the own name in children at risk for ASD. Based on earlier research in neurotypicals, we expected stronger positive parietal activity when hearing the own name versus other (familiar and unfamiliar) names in neurotypicals, and this effect to be diminished or absent in individuals with ASD.

Methods: The study on adults is finalized, while the study on children is still ongoing. 24 adults with ASD and 24 neurotypical adults participated in the experiment. Data of 12 children with and without ASD were analyzed. Participants carried out an auditory oddball paradigm. The sequence of stimuli comprised one frequently presented standard sound (66%), an infrequent target sound (4%), and three categories of names that were presented as equally infrequent task-irrelevant deviants: participants’ own name (10%), the name of a close other (10%), and the name of another person unknown to them (10%). They were instructed to only respond with a button press to the target sound.

Results: A late parietal positivity (PP) was observed specifically for own names in neurotypical adults, indicating enhanced attention to the own name. This preferential effect was completely absent in adults with ASD. Source localization analyses associated this group difference to diminished activation in the right temporo-parietal junction (rTPJ) in adults with ASD. ASD diagnosis could be predicted with fair accuracy, based on own name related brain activity. Data collection is still ongoing in children but early analyses show very similar patterns as seen in adults with ASD. Also children with ASD significantly differ from their typically developing peers, in that they do not show amplification of parietal positive activity, which was observed in neurotypical children. Both the adult findings and results from the analyses on the full sample of children will be presented during the meeting.

Conclusions: The findings indicate atypical neural responses to hearing the own name in individuals with ASD, both in children and adults. In adults, this was associated with decreased rTPJ activation, a region that plays a key role in self-other distinction and mentalizing and has been strongly implicated in ASD in earlier research. Further research is warranted to evaluate the EEG response to the own name as a putative neurocognitive biomarker of ASD across the lifespan.