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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

EEG complexity as a biomarker for autism spectrum disorder risk

William Bosl12*, Adrienne Tierney34, Helen Tager-Flusberg5 and Charles Nelson14

Author affiliations

1 Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

2 Children's Hospital Boston Informatics Program at Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Boston, MA, USA

3 Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA, USA

4 Department of Developmental Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, MA, USA

5 Department of Psychology, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Medicine 2011, 9:18  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-18

Published: 22 February 2011

Abstract

Background

Complex neurodevelopmental disorders may be characterized by subtle brain function signatures early in life before behavioral symptoms are apparent. Such endophenotypes may be measurable biomarkers for later cognitive impairments. The nonlinear complexity of electroencephalography (EEG) signals is believed to contain information about the architecture of the neural networks in the brain on many scales. Early detection of abnormalities in EEG signals may be an early biomarker for developmental cognitive disorders. The goal of this paper is to demonstrate that the modified multiscale entropy (mMSE) computed on the basis of resting state EEG data can be used as a biomarker of normal brain development and distinguish typically developing children from a group of infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), defined on the basis of an older sibling with ASD.

Methods

Using mMSE as a feature vector, a multiclass support vector machine algorithm was used to classify typically developing and high-risk groups. Classification was computed separately within each age group from 6 to 24 months.

Results

Multiscale entropy appears to go through a different developmental trajectory in infants at high risk for autism (HRA) than it does in typically developing controls. Differences appear to be greatest at ages 9 to 12 months. Using several machine learning algorithms with mMSE as a feature vector, infants were classified with over 80% accuracy into control and HRA groups at age 9 months. Classification accuracy for boys was close to 100% at age 9 months and remains high (70% to 90%) at ages 12 and 18 months. For girls, classification accuracy was highest at age 6 months, but declines thereafter.

Conclusions

This proof-of-principle study suggests that mMSE computed from resting state EEG signals may be a useful biomarker for early detection of risk for ASD and abnormalities in cognitive development in infants. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of an information theoretic analysis of EEG data for biomarkers in infants at risk for a complex neurodevelopmental disorder.