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Reduced cardiac parasympathetic activity in children with autism

      Abstract

      Many of the clinical symptoms of autism suggest autonomic dysfunction. The aim of this study was to measure baseline cardiovascular autonomic function in children with autism using the NeuroScope, a device that can measure this brainstem function in real-time. Resting cardiac vagal tone (CVT), cardiac sensitivity to baroreflex (CSB), mean arterial blood pressure (MAP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), systolic blood pressure (SBP) and heart rate (HR) were recorded in three different groups of children. The symptomatic group (n=15) consisted of those with autism who exhibited symptoms or signs of autonomic dysfunction. The asymptomatic group (n=13) consisted of children with autism but without symptoms or signs of autonomic dysfunction and the healthy children were in the control group (n=117). The CVT and CSB were significantly lower in association with a significant elevation in HR, MAP and DBP in all children with autism compared with the healthy controls. Further more, the levels of CVT and CSB were lower in the symptomatic than in the asymptomatic group. The levels of CVT and CSB were not related to age in all the three groups. These results suggest that there is low baseline cardiac parasympathetic activity with evidence of elevated sympathetic tone in children with autism whether or not they have symptoms or signs of autonomic abnormalities.

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