Atypical visual processing in a mouse model of autism

Sci Rep. 2020 Jul 24;10(1):12390. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-68589-9.


Human social cognition relies heavily on the processing of various visual cues, such as eye contact and facial expressions. Atypical visual perception and integration have been recognized as key phenotypes in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and may potentially contribute to impediments in normal social development, a hallmark of ASD. Meanwhile, increasing studies on visual function in ASD have pointed to detail-oriented perception, which has been hypothesized to result from heightened response to information of high spatial frequency. However, mixed results of human studies have led to much debate, and investigations using animal models have been limited. Here, using BTBR mice as a model of idiopathic ASD, we assessed retinal stimulus processing by full-field electroretinogram and found impaired photoreceptor function and retina-based alterations mostly in the cone pathway. Using the optokinetic reflex to evaluate visual function, we observed robustly enhanced visual response to finer spatial details and more subtle contrasts at only higher spatial frequencies in the BTBR mice, under both photopic and scotopic conditions. These behavioral results, which are similar to findings in a subset of ASD patients, indicate a bias toward processing information of high spatial frequencies. Together, these findings also suggest that, while enhancement of visual behaviors under both photopic and scotopic conditions might be due to alterations in visual processing common to both rod and cone pathways, these mechanisms are probably downstream of photoreceptor function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Retina / physiopathology
  • Visual Perception*