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Sensory Over-Responsivity: A Feature of Childhood Psychiatric Illness Associated with Altered Functional Connectivity of Sensory Networks

Published:September 07, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.09.004

      Abstract

      Background

      Sensory over-responsivity (SOR) is recognized as a common feature of autism spectrum disorder. Yet SOR is also common among typically developing children, where it is associated with elevated psychiatric symptoms. The clinical significance and neurocognitive bases of SOR in these children remains poorly understood and actively debated.

      Methods

      The current study used linear mixed-effects models to identify psychiatric symptoms and network-level functional connectivity (FC) differences associated with parent-reported SOR in the ABCD study®, a large community sample (ages 9 to 12 years; N=11,210).

      Results

      Children with SOR constituted 18% of the overall sample but comprised more than half of children with internalizing or externalizing scores in the clinical range. Controlling for autistic traits, both mild and severe SOR were associated with greater concurrent symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Controlling for psychiatric symptoms and autistic traits, SOR predicted increased anxiety, ADHD, and prodromal psychosis symptoms one year later and was associated with FC differences of brain networks supporting sensory and salience processing in datasets collected two years apart. Differences included reduced FC within and between sensorimotor networks, enhanced sensorimotor-salience FC, and altered FC between sensory networks and bilateral hippocampi.

      Conclusions

      SOR is a common, clinically relevant feature of childhood psychiatric illness that provides unique predictive information about risk. It is associated with differences in brain networks that subserve tactile processing, implicating a neural basis for sensory differences in affected children.

      Keywords

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