Documenta Ophthalmologica

, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 83–99 | Cite as

Full-field electroretinogram in autism spectrum disorder

  • Paul A. Constable
  • Sebastian B. Gaigg
  • Dermot M. Bowler
  • Herbert Jägle
  • Dorothy A. Thompson
Original Research Article



To explore early findings that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have reduced scotopic ERG b-wave amplitudes.


Light-adapted (LA) and dark-adapted (DA) ERGs were produced by a range of flash strengths that included and extended the ISCEV standard from two subject groups: a high-functioning ASD group N = 11 and a Control group N = 15 for DA and N = 14 for LA ERGs who were matched for mean age and range. Flash strengths ranged from DA −4.0 to 2.3 log phot cd s m−2 and LA −0.5 to 1.0 log phot cd s m−2, and Naka-Rushton curves were fitted to DA b-wave amplitude over the first growth limb (−4.0 to −1.0 log phot cd s m−2). The derived parameters (V max, K m and n) were compared between groups. Scotopic 15-Hz flicker ERGs (14.93 Hz) were recorded to 10 flash strengths presented in ascending order from −3.0 to 0.5 log Td s to assess the slow and fast rod pathways, respectively. LA 30-Hz flicker ERGs, oscillatory potentials (OPs) and the responses to prolonged 120-ms ON–OFF stimuli were also recorded.


The ISCEV LA b-wave amplitude produced by 0.5 log phot cd s m−2 was lower in the ASD group (p < 0.001). Repeated measures ANOVA for the LA b-wave amplitude series forming the photopic hill was significantly (p = 0.01) different between groups. No group differences were observed for the distributions of the time to peaks of LA a-wave, b-wave or the photopic negative responses (phNR) (p > 0.08) to the single flash stimuli, but there was a significant difference in the distribution for the LA b-wave amplitudes (corrected p = 0.006). The prolonged 120-ms ON responses were smaller in the ASD group (corrected p = 0.003), but the OFF response amplitude (p > 0.6) and ON and OFF times to peaks (p > 0.4) were similar between groups. The LA OPs showed an earlier bifurcation of OP2 in the younger ASD participants; however, no other differences were apparent in the OPs or 30-Hz flicker waveforms. DA b-wave amplitudes fell below the control 5th centile of the controls for some individuals including four ASD participants (36 %) at the 1.5 log phot cd s m−2 flash strength and two (18 %) ASD participants at the lower −2 log phot cd s m−2 flash strength. However, across the 13 flash strengths, there were no significant group differences for b-wave amplitude’s growth (repeated measures ANOVA p = 0.83). Nor were there any significant differences between the groups for the Naka-Rushton parameters (p > 0.09). No group differences were observed in the 15-Hz scotopic flicker phase or amplitude (p > 0.1), DA ERG a-wave amplitude or time to peak (p > 26). The DA b-wave time to peak at 0.5 log phot cd s m−2 was longer in the ASD group (p = 0.04).


Under LA conditions, the b-wave is reduced across the ASD group, along with the ON response of the prolonged flash ERG. Some ASD individuals also show subnormal DA ERG b-wave amplitudes. These exploratory findings suggest there is altered cone-ON bipolar signalling in ASD.


Autism spectrum disorder Electroretinogram Naka-Rushton ON pathway 15-Hz scotopic flicker 



This study was funded by the College of Optometrists, and parts of this work were presented at the 52nd ISCEV conference in Boston. The study was nominated for the Marmor prize for clinical innovation in electrophysiology at the meeting. The authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organisation or entity with any financial interest (such as honoraria; educational grants; participation in speakers’ bureaus; membership, employment, consultancies, stock ownership, or other equity interest; and expert testimony or patent-licensing arrangements), or non-financial interest (such as personal or professional relationships, affiliations, knowledge or beliefs) in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Optometry and Vision ScienceFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Autism Research GroupCity University LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of OphthalmologyUniversity ClinicRegensburgGermany
  4. 4.Clinical and Academic Department of OphthalmologyGreat Ormond Street Hospital for ChildrenLondonUK

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