Fear-potentiated startle response is unrelated to social or emotional functioning in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders

Lindsey Sterling*, Jeffrey Munson, Annette Estes, Michael Andrew Murias, Sara Jane Webb, Bryan King, Geraldine Dawson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Scopus citations


    It has been suggested that atypical amygdala function contributes to the social impairments characteristic of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Previous research has demonstrated that adolescents and adults with ASD generate normal response duringear-potentiated startle paradigsuggesting this aspect of amygdala function is intact and may not account for the social dysfunction associated with the condition. The amygdala also playsrucial role in the expression of anxiety and may contribute to high rates of reported anxiety in individuals with ASD. The present study partially replicates prior work by examining the fear-potentiated startle response in adolescents with ASand extends this to investigate the relationship between startle response and anxiety. Eyeblink magnitude and latency (electromyographic activity; EMG) were collected from 20 adolescents with ASD and 19 typically developing (TD) age-matched adolescents duringear-potentiated startle paradigm. Parent-report and self-report of anxiety and additional psychiatric symptoms were collected. Parental reports indicated higher rates of associated psychopathology in adolescents with ASD compared with TD adolescents. Consistent with previous resultboth groups showed normal potentiated startle responsand no group differences in EMG were found. Symptoms of anxiety and level of social impairment were unrelated to startle response. These findings held for all levels of anxietsuggesting that within the context of the fear-potentiated startle paradigamygdala response is not associated with degree of atypical social or emotional functioning in ASD.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)320-331
    Number of pages12
    JournalAutism Research
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - Oct 2013


    • Amygdala
    • Anxiety
    • Autism spectrum disorders
    • Startle response

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Neuroscience(all)
    • Clinical Neurology
    • Genetics(clinical)


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