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Front Hum Neurosci. 2019 Jan 22;13:5. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00005. eCollection 2019.

Relationship of the Acoustic Startle Response and Its Modulation to Adaptive and Maladaptive Behaviors in Typically Developing Children and Those With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Study.

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National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, Department of Preventive Intervention for Psychiatric Disorders, National Institute of Mental Health, Tokyo, Japan.
Integrative Brain Imaging Center, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, Department of Advanced Neuroimaging, Tokyo, Japan.
Stockholm Center for Health and Social Change (SCOHOST), Södertörn University, Huddinge, Sweden.


Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with persistent impairments in adaptive functioning across multiple domains of daily life. Thus, investigation of the biological background of both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors may shed light on developing effective interventions for improving social adaptation in ASD. In this study, we examined the relationship between adaptive/maladaptive behaviors and the acoustic startle response (ASR) and its modulation, which are promising neurophysiological markers for ASD translational research. Method: We investigated the ASR and its modulation in 11 children with ASD and 18 with typical development (TD), analyzing the relationship between startle measures and adaptive/maladaptive behaviors assessed with the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) Second Edition. Results: Peak-ASR latency was negatively correlated with the VABS total score and socialization domain score of adaptive behaviors, while the ASR magnitude for relatively weak stimuli of 75-85 dB was positively correlated with VABS maladaptive behavior scores. Prepulse inhibition (PPI) at the prepulse intensity of 70-75 dB was also correlated with VABS maladaptive behavior. However, these relationships did not remain significant after adjustment for multiple comparisons. Conclusions: Our results indicate that the prolonged peak-ASR latency of ASD children might be associated with impairment in the developmental level of adaptive behavior, and that the greater ASR magnitude to relatively weak acoustic stimuli and smaller PPI of ASD children might increase the risk of maladaptive behavior. Future studies that have larger sample sizes will be important for further elucidating the neurophysiological factors that underpin adaptive as well as maladaptive behaviors in ASD.


acoustic startle reflex; adaptive behavior; autism spectrum disorder; hypersensitivity; neurophysiology; sensorimotor gating

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