Changes in frontal lobe electroencephalographic (EEG) activity recorded during the performance of a spatial working memory task in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
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Background: Prenatal alcohol exposure causes behavioural, growth and central nervous system deficits in the offspring, termed Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Our lab has previously shown that structured saccadic eye movement tasks probe executive functioning and can be used to measure cognitive dysfunction in children with an FASD, because performance of these tasks reflects the structural integrity of brain areas shown to be vulnerable to prenatal alcohol exposure. Recently developed portable electroencephalographic (EEG) devices record brain activity using a single dry-sensor electrode. Our objectives were: 1) to assess attention and working memory via a delayed memory-guided saccadic eye movement task of varying mnemonic load and 2) to explore the use of a portable single-channel EEG recording device in measuring differences in frontal lobe activity in children with FASD during the performance of this eye movement task. Methods: A total of 18 children with an FASD diagnosis and 19 typically developing control children performed a memory-guided saccadic eye movement task with one, two or three target stimuli. During the task, frontal lobe EEG was recorded using the Neurosky Mindwave Mobile® portable recording device. Results: In the delayed, memory-guided task when two or three target stimuli were required to be held in working memory, children with an FASD performed the task correctly less often than children in the control group. During task performance, children with FASD exhibited a reduction in theta frequency band power, and in alpha frequency band power only at higher mnemonic loads, suggesting that children with FASD recruited more cognitive resources to complete the task. Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that a portable EEG recording device can be used to assist in the recognition of underlying neural mechanisms of executive functioning deficits in children with FASD. Portable devices offer greater user comfort than typical EEG recording equipment as well as flexibility for use outside the laboratory. This could greatly facilitate the study of children with FASD, and other groups who may be less tolerant of typical laboratory environments.