Investigating the steadiness of the phase-coupling between the time-course of the reader's voice and brain signals of subjects with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) passively listening to connected speech using magnetoencephalography (MEG). In typically developed subjects, such coupling occurs at the right posterior temporal sulcus (pSTS) for frequencies below 1 Hz, and reflects the neural processing of sentence-level rhythmic prosody at the prelexical level.
Cortical neuromagnetic signals were recorded with MEG (Elekta Oy, Finland) while seven right-handed and native French-speaking ASD subjects (six males, one female, range: 13–20 years) listened to live (Live) or recorded (Recorded) voices continuously reading a text in French for five minutes. Coherence was computed between the reader's voice time-course and ASD subjects' MEG signals. Coherent neural sources were subsequently reconstructed using a beamformer.
Significant coupling was found at 0.5 Hz in all ASD subjects in Live and in six subjects in Recorded. Coherent sources were located close to the right pSTS in both conditions. No significant difference was found in coherence levels between Live and Recorded, and between ASD subjects and ten typically developed subjects (right-handed, native French-speaking adults, 5 males, 5 females, age range: 21–38 years) included in a previous study.
This study discloses a preserved coupling between the reader's voice and ASD subjects' cortical activity at the right pSTS. These findings support the existence of preserved neural processing of sentence-level rhythmic prosody in ASD. The preservation of early cortical processing of prosodic elements in verbal language might be exploited in therapeutic interventions in ASD.