Fear-Potentiated Startle Response Is Unrelated to Social or
Emotional Functioning in Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorders
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 during a fear-potentiated startle paradigm, suggesting this aspect of amygdala function is intact and may not account for the social dysfunction associated with the condition. The amygdala also plays a crucial 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 ASD, and 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 during a fear-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 results, both groups showed normal potentiated startle response, and 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 anxiety, suggesting that within the context of the fear-potentiated startle paradigm, amygdala response is not associated with degree of atypical social or emotional functioning in ASD.