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Associations between physiological and neural measures of sensory reactivity in youth with autism

Jung, Jiwon and Zbozinek, Tomislav D. and Cummings, Kaitlin K. and Wilhelm, Frank H. and Dapretto, Mirella and Craske, Michelle G. and Bookheimer, Susan Y. and Green, Shulamite A. (2021) Associations between physiological and neural measures of sensory reactivity in youth with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 62 (10). pp. 1183-1194. ISSN 0021-9630. doi:10.1111/jcpp.13387.

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Background: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) commonly show sensory over‐responsivity (SOR), an impairing condition related to over‐reactive brain and behavioral responses to aversive stimuli. While individuals with ASD often show atypically high physiological arousal, it is unclear how this relates to sensory reactivity. We therefore investigated how physiological arousal relates to brain and behavioral indices of SOR, to inform understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying SOR and to determine whether physiological measures are associated with SOR‐related brain responses. Methods: Youth aged 8–18 (49 ASD; 30 age‐ and performance‐IQ‐matched typically developing (TD)) experienced mildly aversive tactile and auditory stimuli first during functional magnetic resonance imaging (N = 41 ASD, 26 TD) and then during skin conductance (SCR) (N = 48 ASD, 28 TD) and heart rate (HR) measurements (N = 48 ASD, 30 TD). Parents reported on their children’s SOR severity. Results: Autism Spectrum Disorder youth overall displayed greater SCR to aversive sensory stimulation than TD youth and greater baseline HR. Within ASD, higher SOR was associated with higher mean HR across all stimuli after controlling for baseline HR. Furthermore, the ASD group overall, and the ASD‐high‐SOR group in particular, showed reduced HR deceleration/greater acceleration to sensory stimulation compared to the TD group. Both SCR and HR were associated with brain responses to sensory stimulation in regions previously associated with SOR and sensory regulation. Conclusions: Autism Spectrum Disorder youth displayed heightened physiological arousal to mildly aversive sensory stimulation, with HR responses in particular showing associations with brain and behavioral measures of SOR. These results have implications for using psychophysiological measures to assess SOR, particularly in individuals with ASD who cannot undergo MRI.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Jung, Jiwon0000-0003-0020-994X
Zbozinek, Tomislav D.0000-0003-0187-671X
Cummings, Kaitlin K.0000-0002-5096-5519
Green, Shulamite A.0000-0003-4248-3576
Additional Information:© 2021 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Issue Online: 29 September 2021; Version of Record online: 15 February 2021; Manuscript accepted: 18 December 2020; Manuscript revised: 17 December 2020; Manuscript received: 02 May 2020. Research funding: UCLA Friends of the Semel Institute (Scholar Grant); National Research Service Award postdoctoral fellowship. Grant Number: F32 MH105167; National Institute of Mental Health. Grant Numbers: K08 MH112871, R01MH100028; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Grant Number: 345389. Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NIH Postdoctoral FellowshipF32 MH105167
NIHK08 MH112871
NIHP50 HD055784
Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative345389
Subject Keywords:Autism spectrum disorders; physiology; fMRI; sensory over‐responsivity
Issue or Number:10
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210222-125039388
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Jung, J., Zbozinek, T.D., Cummings, K.K., Wilhelm, F.H., Dapretto, M., Craske, M.G., Bookheimer, S.Y. and Green, S.A. (2021), Associations between physiological and neural measures of sensory reactivity in youth with autism. J Child Psychol Psychiatr, 62: 1183-1194.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:108146
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:22 Feb 2021 21:23
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 19:09

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