Profiles of Autonomic Activity in Autism Spectrum Disorder with and without Anxiety

Abstract

Both anxiety and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are associated with atypical physiological activity. Few studies have systematically assessed the resting physiological activity in ASD with co-occurring anxiety disorders. We tested 75 participants divided in four groups: youth with ASD, with (ASD + Anxiety = 22, 6F, 12.29 ± 2.83 years old) and without co-occurring anxiety (ASD Alone = 15, 6F, 11.59 ± 2.85 years old) and compared their physiological profile with that of matched typically developing controls (TDC) with (Anxiety Alone = 16, 6F, 11.24 ± 3.36 years old) and without co-occurring anxiety disorders (TDC = 22, 8F, 11.88 ± 2.88 years old). Results indicated reduced sympathetic and parasympathetic activity at rest in ASD as compared to TDC youth. ASD + Anxiety and Anxiety Alone groups showed different sympathetic, but similar parasympathetic activity. These findings suggest that autonomic profile-based approaches may advance research, diagnosis, and treatment of ASD and anxiety.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the parents and youth who participated in the research. We would also like to thank Fottfam Baguio LaBouff and Natasha April Tonge for their assistance in data collection. The design, data collection, management, and analysis for the manuscript were also supported by funds from Shire Pharmaceuticals (to John Herrington, PhD). The design and conduct of the study, collection, management, and analysis were supported by grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (SAP # 4100042728, to Robert Schultz, PhD), the National Institute of Child Health and Development (P30 HD026979, to Marc Yudcoff, MD), and National Institute of Mental Health (RC1MH08879 and R01 MH073084-01, to Robert Schultz, PhD).

Funding

Dr. John Herrington was funded by Shire Pharmaceuticals. This study was funded by Pennsylvania Department of Health (4100042728), National Institute of Child Health and Development (P30 HD026979), National Institute of Mental Health (RC1MH08879) and National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH073084-01).

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VP contributed to the analysis and interpretation of data, and first drafting and revision of this manuscript. LG, AM, KR, JW, BM, and JM contributed to acquisition of data, and drafting/revision of the manuscript. NC contributed to the analysis and interpretation of data, and drafting/revision of this manuscript. AB and MF contributed to the interpretation of data and drafting/revision of this manuscript. JH contributed to the design, acquisition, analysis, interpretation of the data, and drafting/revision of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Valentina Parma.

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All remaining authors reported no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

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Parma, V., Cellini, N., Guy, L. et al. Profiles of Autonomic Activity in Autism Spectrum Disorder with and without Anxiety. J Autism Dev Disord (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04862-0

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Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Autonomic profile
  • Electrodermal activity
  • Heart rate variability