Journal of Neural Transmission

, Volume 121, Issue 9, pp 1129–1144 | Cite as

Elucidating the neurophysiological underpinnings of autism spectrum disorder: new developments

  • C. LuckhardtEmail author
  • T. A. Jarczok
  • S. Bender
Psychiatry and Preclinical Psychiatric Studies - Review article


The study of neurophysiological approaches together with rare and common risk factors for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) allows elucidating the specific underlying neurobiology of ASD. Whereas most neurophysiologically based research in ASD to date has focussed on case–control differences based on the DSM- or ICD-based categorical ASD diagnosis, more recent studies have aimed at studying genetically and/or neurophysiologically defined homogeneous ASD subgroups for specific neuronal biomarkers. This review addresses the neurophysiological investigation of ASD by evoked and event-related potentials, by EEG/MEG connectivity measures such as coherence, and transcranial magnetic stimulation. As an example of classical neurophysiological studies in ASD, we report event-related potential studies which have illustrated which brain areas and processing stages are affected in the visual perception of socially relevant stimuli. However, a paradigm shift has taken place in recent years focussing on how these findings can be tracked down to basic neuronal functions such as deficits in cortico-cortical connectivity and the interaction between brain areas. Disconnectivity, for example, can again be related to genetically induced shifts in the excitation/inhibition balance. Genetic causes of ASD may be grouped by their effects on the brain’s system level to identify ASD subgroups which respond differentially to therapeutic interventions.


Autism Visual event-related potential Mirror neuron Connectivity Transcranial magnetic stimulation Excitation Inhibition 



We would like to thank Dr. Susanne Raisig for proofreading our manuscript. This work was supported by grant FR2069/2-1 of the German Research Foundation DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) to C.M.F., and the LOEWE programme, Neuronal Coordination Research Focus Frankfurt (NeFF), project B1, to S.B. and C.M.F.


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© Springer-Verlag Wien 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and PsychotherapyJW Goethe University FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany

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