Transient flash VEPs allow objective assessment of visual function and are easily recorded in young infants. However, due to their high variability, they are an insensitive surrogate marker of visual development. The aim of our study was to investigate the early maturation of temporal characteristics of steady-state flicker VEPs. Data from 53 VEP sessions were analyzed in term-born infants between birth and 20 months of age. The stimulus was a square-wave modulated luminance flicker with 80% modulation depth at temporal frequencies of 4.7, 7.5, 12.5, and 19 Hz. A total of 18 healthy adults aged between 21 and 54 years served as controls. Contingent on the stimulus frequency, we found pronounced changes of the flicker VEP with age. Regression lines fit to the first harmonic VEP magnitude as a function of age between 3 and 88 weeks of age indicated increases at 7.5 (P = 0.004), 12.5 (P < 0.001), and 19 Hz (P = 0.07) and a non-significant decrease at 4.7 Hz (P = 0.3). The magnitude of the second harmonic increased for all frequencies (4.7 (P = 0.05), 7.5 (P = 0.01), 12.5 (P = 0.13), and 19 Hz (P = 0.18)). Over the whole infant age range, the flicker VEP was dominated by the first harmonic, in contrast to adults, where the response was typically shifted to a higher harmonic at low stimulus frequencies. The optimal stimulus frequency, defined as the frequency eliciting the highest magnitude for F1, shifted to higher rates with age. Due to the difference from adult responses, further developmental changes of the temporal properties must be assumed to occur after the age of 20 months. Changes in temporal characteristics of the flicker VEP with age may be useful as an indicator of visual system maturation and a useful tool to detect visual delay.
Flicker VEP Infant Maturation Temporal frequency
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We thank the parents and infants who volunteered their time for this study. Dr Christina Pieh was supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh - International Exchange Visitor Programme. We are grateful to Dr Michael Bradnam and Richard Boulton for supporting the data analysis in Glasgow and to Richard Boulton and Leslie Farrell for assisting with data collection.
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