Autism and EEG phase reset: deficient GABA mediated inhibition in thalamo-cortical circuits

Dev Neuropsychol. 2009;34(6):780-800. doi: 10.1080/87565640903265178.


The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between electroencephalogram (EEG) phase reset in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) subjects as compared to age matched control subjects. The EEG was recorded from 19 scalp locations from 54 autistic subjects and 241 control subjects ranging in age from 2.6 years to 11 years. Complex demodulation was used to compute instantaneous phase differences between all pairs of electrodes and the 1st and 2nd derivatives were used to measure phase reset by phase shift duration and phase lock duration. In both short (6 cm) and long (21-24 cm) inter-electrode distances phase shift duration in ASD subjects was significantly shorter in all frequency bands but especially in the alpha-1 frequency band (8-10 Hz) (p < .0001). Phase lock duration was significantly longer in the alpha-2 frequency band (10-12 Hz) in ASD subjects (p < .0001). An anatomical gradient was present with the occipital-parietal regions the most significant. The findings in this study support the hypothesis that neural resource recruitment occurs in the lower frequency bands and especially the alpha-1 frequency band while neural resource allocation occurs in the alpha-2 frequency band. The results are consistent with a general GABA inhibitory neurotransmitter deficiency resulting in reduced number and/or strength of thalamo-cortical connections in autistic subjects.

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / metabolism*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Thalamus / metabolism*
  • Thalamus / physiopathology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / deficiency*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid