We investigated heart rate (HR) in infants at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months of age, at high (HRA) and low (LRC) familial risk for ASD, to identify potential endophenotypes of ASD risk related to attentional responses. HR was extracted from functional near-infrared spectroscopy recordings while infants listened to speech stimuli. Longitudinal analysis revealed that HRA infants and males generally had lower baseline HR than LRC infants and females. HRA infants showed decreased HR responses to early trials over development, while LRC infants showed increased responses. These findings suggest altered developmental trajectories in physiological responses to speech stimuli over the first year of life, with HRA infants showing less social orienting over time.
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To rule out the possibility that confounding cognitive factors may explain any findings of differing psychological arousal to speech stimuli in HRA infants, we examined available Mullen data, and found that neither verbal nor non-verbal developmental quotients (DQ) were significantly different between HRA and LRC infants (p (verbal DQ, 6 months) = 0.57, p (verbal DQ, 12 months) = 0.22, p (non-verbal DQ, 6 months) = 0.69, p (non-verbal DQ, 12 months) = 0.36) or males and females (p (verbal DQ, 6 months) = 0.71, p (verbal DQ, 12 months) = 0.18, p (non-verbal DQ, 6 months) = 0.92, p (non-verbal DQ, 12 months) = 0.12; see Table 1).
At the time of this manuscript such analyses are not possible (models including gender did not converge) as of the 66 infants who have completed the study and received final clinical judgments, only three females had received an ASD diagnosis.
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We are extremely grateful to the families for their invaluable contribution to the Infant Sibling Project. We would also like to acknowledge the Infant Sibling Project staff—Tara Augenstein, Lauren Baczewski, Leah Casner, Kristin Concannon, Frances Cooley, Morgan Crossman, Kerri Downing, Mary Kate Driscoll, Sharon Fox, Linnea Joffe-Nelson, Kristina Joas, Brandon Keehn, Jack Keller, Nina Leezenbaum, Vanessa Loukas, Rhiannon Luyster, Stephanie Marshall, Sarah Mumanachit, Anne Seery, Meagan Thompson, Vanessa Vogel-Farley, Jennifer Wagner, and Anne-Marie Zuluaga—for their assistance in data acquisition and helpful advice.
CAN, HTF conceived and designed the Infant Sibling Project. KLP, CAN designed the HR study. KLP, LAE analyzed data. KLP, LAE, CAN, HTF participated in the interpretation of the data. KLP, LAE drafted the manuscript. CAN, HTF critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant R01-DC010290 to Helen Tager-Flusberg and Charles A. Nelson and The Simons Foundation (137186) to Charles A. Nelson.
Conflict of interest
Katherine L. Perdue, Laura A. Edwards, Helen Tager-Flusberg, and Charles A. Nelson declared that they have no conflict of interest.
All study procedures were monitored and approved by the Boston Children’s Hospital Institutional Review Board under IRB protocol X10-02-0083. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.
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Perdue, K.L., Edwards, L.A., Tager-Flusberg, H. et al. Differing Developmental Trajectories in Heart Rate Responses to Speech Stimuli in Infants at High and Low Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 47, 2434–2442 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3167-4
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Heart rate
- Auditory processing