Low-Frequency Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Modulates Evoked-Gamma Frequency Oscillations in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Joshua M. Baruth, Manuel F. Casanova, Ayman El-Baz, Tim Horrell, Grace Mathai, Lonnie Sears, Estate Sokhadze


Introduction. It has been reported that individuals with Autism Spectrum
Disorder (ASD) have abnormal reactions to the sensory environment and visuo-perceptual abnormalities. Electrophysiological research has provided evidence that gamma band activity (30–80 Hz) is a physiological indicator of the coactivation of cortical cells engaged in processing visual stimuli and integrating different features of a stimulus. A number of studies have found augmented and indiscriminative gamma band power at early stages of visual processing in ASD; this may be related to decreased inhibitory processing and an increase in the ratio of cortical excitation to inhibition. Low frequency or ‘‘slow’’ (1HZ) repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been shown to increase inhibition of stimulated cortex by the activation of inhibitory circuits. Method. We wanted to test the hypothesis of gamma band abnormalities at early stages of visual processing in ASD by investigating relative evoked (i.e., 100 ms) gamma power in 25 participants with ASD and 20 age-matched controls using Kanizsa illusory figures. In addition, we wanted to assess the effects of 12 sessions of bilateral ‘‘slow’’ rTMS to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex on evoked gamma activity using a randomized controlled design. Results. In individuals with ASD evoked gamma activity was not discriminative of stimulus type, whereas in controls early gamma power differences between target and nontarget stimuli were highly significant. Following rTMS individuals with ASD showed significant improvement in discriminatory gamma activity between relevant and irrelevant visual stimuli. We also found significant improvement in the responses on behavioral questionnaires (i.e., irritability, repetitive behavior) as a result of rTMS. Conclusion. We propose that slow rTMS may have increased cortical inhibitory tone, which improved discriminatory gamma activity at early stages of visual processing. rTMS has the potential to become an important therapeutic tool in ASD treatment and has shown significant benefits in treating core symptoms of ASD with few, if any side effects.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10874208.2010.501500


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