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Neural Response During Emotion Elicitation in ASD: Importance of Depression History and Positive Emotion

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
C. A. Mazefsky1, T. Goldstein2, T. N. Day3, N. J. Minshew4 and G. J. Siegle4, (1)University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Wexford, PA, (2)Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, (3)University of Pittsburgh ACE, Pittsburgh, PA, (4)University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background:  Research on emotional processes in ASD has primarily focused on emotion perception (rather than the experience of emotion) with emotional faces as stimuli. However, broad measures of emotion recognition do not differentiate adolescents with ASD with and without severe mood dysregulation (Siminoff et al., 2012), and it is unclear if neural activation to emotional faces would correspond to the problems observed when individuals with ASD experience more salient emotions. Given accounts of problematic emotional control and variability in emotional functioning within ASD, studies utilizing paradigms that directly manipulate emotional experiences and consider heterogeneity within ASD are needed. 

Objectives:  1) Characterize reactivity in emotion regulation-related brain regions using a new task designed to elicit positive and negative emotion; 2) Investigate factors related to heterogeneity in emotional reactivity within ASD, including comorbid psychiatric diagnoses and continuous measures of the participants’ typical emotional/behavioral functioning.

Methods:  Participants to date include 21 adolescents aged 12-19 years old with ADOS/ADI-R-verified ASD and 19 TD controls without ASD or a psychiatric disorder. All participants had IQs above 80 and the groups did not differ in FSIQ or age, p > .05. Psychiatric diagnoses for the ASD group were established with the Autism Comorbidity Interview, with nearly half (n = 10) meeting criteria for past or current depression. All parents/participants also completed a battery of emotional/behavioral questionnaires. A 3T Siemens trio scanner, TR = 1.67, and P to A EPI acquisition were utilized for fMRI. In the scanner, participants completed a new affective continuous performance task that alternates between a modified continuous performance task and a coin toss task (s/he calls the flip of a coin). Present analyses focused on six blocks of coin-flip tasks in which s/he: 1) wins money (positive affective induction), and 2) loses money (negative affective induction) impacting actual participant payments (up to $30). Preliminary analyses focused on the amygdala (additional participants, brain regions, and questionnaires will be included in updated analyses).

Results:  History of depression and differential responses to positive emotion emerged as important factors related to heterogeneity in amgydala reactivity in ASD. Mixed effects analyses for baseline-corrected percent change in right and left amygdala activity supported significant main effects of valence (win or lose trial) and diagnosis (TD; ASD+depression; ASD without depression), and a diagnosis by valence interaction, p < .001. Interestingly, the strongest effect was for positive emotion, with increased amygdala activity in the ASD without depression group and decreased amgydala activity for the ASD+depression group during win trials.

Conclusions:  The findings highlight the importance of addressing within group variability in studies of emotional reactivity in ASD given opposite patterns of amygdala activity between participants with versus without a lifetime history of a depressive disorder. Implications for models of emotion dysregulation in ASD will be discussed, including the role of episodic mood disorders within the broader context of temperament and possible disruptions in the intensity and modulation of both positive and negative affect.

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