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Physiological response patterns in children with ASD to predict internalizing symptoms

2017 Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship

Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tennessee
United States

Many people affected by autism have altered physiological arousal and high rates of psychiatric comorbidities in addition to the condition’s hallmark social difficulties. In addition, research has revealed dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the autonomic nervous system (ANS), including the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches, in ASD. While unique patterns of HPA and ANS activation predict anxiety and depression in typical development (TD), such patterns have not been investigated in ASD.

The proposed study aims to characterize physiological response in children with ASD compared to TD peers and to determine whether response patterns predict internalizing symptoms. The study will use respiratory sinus arrhythmia, pre-ejection period and salivary cortisol to assess arousal at rest and during a friendly version of the Trier Social Stress Test.

We hypothesize that Children with ASD have increased sympathetic and HPA activation and decreased parasympathetic regulation, especially during social interaction.

We will compare physiological measures with parent- and self-report to investigate if arousal predicts affective symptoms.

We also hypothesize that high HPA, high sympathetic activity and low parasympathetic activity will predict more internalizing symptoms in ASD.

Our findings have the potential to provide evidence of biological underpinnings of psychosocial impairment in ASD and potentially identify biomarkers of psychiatric comorbidities.




Muscatello, Rachael


Corbett, Blythe

Grant Term:

2 years

Award Type:

Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship

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