A developmental neuroscience approach to the search for biomarkers in autism spectrum disorder

Kandice J. Varcin, Charles A. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose of review The delineation of biomarkers in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) offers a promising approach to inform precision-medicine-based approaches to ASD diagnosis and treatment and to move toward a mechanistic description of the disorder. However, biomarkers with sufficient sensitivity or specificity for clinical application in ASD are yet to be realized. Here, we review recent evidence for early, low-level alterations in brain and behavior development that may offer promising avenues for biomarker development in ASD. Recent findings Accumulating evidence suggests that signs associated with ASD may unfold in a manner that maps onto the hierarchical organization of brain development. Genetic and neuroimaging evidence points towards perturbations in brain development early in life, and emerging evidence indicates that sensorimotor development may be among the earliest emerging signs associated with ASD, preceding social and cognitive impairment. Summary The search for biomarkers of risk, prediction and stratification in ASD may be advanced through a developmental neuroscience approach that looks outside of the core signs of ASD and considers the bottom-up nature of brain development alongside the dynamic nature of development over time. We provide examples of assays that could be incorporated in studies to target low-level circuits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-129
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Opinion in Neurology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


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