Neural Basis of a Novel Auditory Subtype of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a highly heterogeneous disorder which is characterized by social interaction difficulties, stereotypic behaviors, sensory differences, and restricted interests. In order to tackle the problem of heterogeneity, this study aims to stratify the ASD population by focusing on a discrete behavioral phenotype and identifying the neural basis of the phenotype. An individual with absolute pitch possesses the ability to identify a note without the presence of a reference tone. Specifically, we intend to look at the differences in absolute pitch (AP) and pitch discrimination (PD), which are more prevalent in the ASD population, as compared to typically developing (TD) controls.

Through our study, we hope to gain insight into the following 3 points: (1) examine correlations between AP, PD, and speech perception in ASD and TD adolescents and adults, (2) determine relationships between AP, PD, and coherence of gamma bond oscillations (GB) in ASD and TD by electroencephalography (EEG), (3) and measure GABA levels in the auditory cortices and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of children with ASD and TDs by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS).

Our study will comprise of cognitive-behavioral assessments, musical assessments, and neuroimaging methods, to be completed in partnership with Dr. Takako Fujioka’s research team. Cognitive-behavioral assessments involve the completion of questionnaires and characteristic tests, such as the Autism Quotient (AQ) and Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS). AP and PD will be assessed by behavioral/musical assessment methods modified from previous studies (Figure 1). Characterization of gamma oscillations relies on EEG acquisitions of auditory cortex activity (Figure 2). Lastly, in vivo 1H-MRS acquisition will require participants to complete an MRI scan for neuroimaging data.

Participation in the study will involve:

Completion of neuropsychological assessments

Musical assessment


MRI scan

Participants must be/have:

12-25 years

Male or female

Ability to name music notes

IQ >85

For more information, or to enroll in this exciting opportunity, please contact:

Lawrence Fung: OR (650) 498-9392