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Gamma Oscillations: Integrative Concepts for Autism Research

Autism is a complex phenomenon. Individuals with autism can process certain types of information, often where high levels of local detail are present, yet are claimed to lack ability to recognize facial expressions, or other measures of social interaction. Communication and language difficulties could be due to cognitive impairments, reflecting perhaps an over-abundance of white matter connections, or the problem may lie elsewhere, such as in the timing of perceptual processing, or even in the sequencing and control of motor systems. This lack of a firm physiological understanding of autism has given rise to a number of psychological concepts that have guided researchers and therapists, but will be difficult to integrate with emerging data from developmental neuroscience. One of the most influential ideas is that people with autism have ‘weak central coherence’, a concept related in fundamental ways to our notions of attention, sensory integration, and global reasoning. Impressive technological advances in measuring spatial and temporal characteristics of gamma oscillations with high-density EEG have opened up the possibility of studying, in real-time, communication across different brain regions during the performance of cognitive or visual-spatial tasks. This technique could provide a much-needed bridge between cellular neuroscience and psychology.

The Boston Club on ‘Gamma Oscillations: Integrative Concepts in Autism Research’ was aimed at asking whether it is possible to use EEG to investigate how persons with autism process sensory and other forms of information. It might be asked whether they, in fact, do process information differently, and if so, under what sorts of experimental conditions? Persons who cannot speak might not ‘gate’ data obtained by hearing or reading in the same way as others, and this might give them superior ability in some areas. The question of rhythmicity in brain-body coordination is also central to an understanding of autism and more ‘holistic’ ways of thinking about movement and its relationship to thought might lead to sophisticated simultaneous measurement of mind-body rhythms in response to stimuli. The Boston Club discussion addressed how to test individuals with autism other than those with Asperger’s Syndrome (an interesting group to study, but often chosen because these individuals can comply with experimental protocols requiring spoken feedback). Finally, can bio-feedback or transcranial stimulation be used to locally stimulate brain regions to increase perceptual or cognitive processing?

Matt Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Neural Rhythmicity, Serotonin, and Autism
Joshua Fost, Ph.D., Hampshire College

Albert Galaburda, M.D., Harvard Medical School

Connectivity in Context: Physical and Systems Considerations in the Development of Gating, Timing, Asymmetry and Connectivity Challenges in Autism 
Martha Herbert, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Language & Communication Issues in Autism Research 
Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., University of California , San Francisco School of Medicine

Brain Music Therapy 
Galina Mindlin, M.D., Ph.D., Columbia University

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Autism: Exploring Brain Connectivity and Modulating Plasticity 
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, M.D., Ph.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Gamma Abnormalities in Autism: Implications for Communication and Sensory Integration 
Georgina Rippon, Ph.D., Aston University

Through Singing to Speech: Music-Facilitated Language Recovery 
Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Barbara Scolnick, M.D., Boston University

Boosting Concept Formation as a Possible Therapy for Autism 
Allan Snyder, DSc, Ph.D., University of Sydney


The Smith Family Foundation, Chestnut Hill , MA