Respiratory and autonomic dysfunction in children with autism spectrum disorders

Brain Dev. 2016 Feb;38(2):225-32. doi: 10.1016/j.braindev.2015.07.003. Epub 2015 Jul 30.


Introduction: Cardiac parasympathetic hypofunction has been reported in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This usually is linked to respiratory dysrhythmia which has been documented in some children with ASD.

Objectives: This study evaluated the cardiorespiratory functions in ASD to elucidate the physiologic basis of behaviors.

Methods: Nineteen children with ASD and 18 age matched controls underwent autonomic function monitoring at a defined resting state using the NeuroScope. The non-invasive real time beat-to-beat blood pressure was measured by Portapres and fed into the NeuroScope where heart rate, cardiac vagal tone and cardiac sensitivity to baroreceptor were derived from the EKG and blood pressure waveforms using the Vagosoft software; and respiratory rate and rhythm were measured simultaneously by plethysmograph. Respiration was analyzed breath by breath using our prior published methods.

Results: Various respiratory dysrhythmias, particularly Biot's and Cheyne-Stokes respiration, were detected in children with ASD, who also exhibited greater variability in respiratory rhythm and amplitudes than controls. The respiratory dysrhythmia in children with ASD was associated with a lower cardiac vagal activity.

Conclusion: The Biot's breathing and Cheyne-Stokes respiration coupled with cardiac vagal hypofunction in ASD suggest a brainstem dysfunction consistent with our previous findings. The low parasympathetic activity could explain in part the chronic sensory hyperarousal state in children with ASD.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorders; Autonomic dysfunction; Biot’s breathing; Cheyne–Stokes respiration; Respiratory dysrhythmia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cheyne-Stokes Respiration / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiration
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / physiopathology*