Discrete electrocortical predictors of anxiety and anxiety-related treatment response in youth with autism spectrum disorder

There are two established electroencephalogram (EEG) indices that putatively relate to anxiety symptoms: a) the error-related negativity (ERN), which reflects endogenous threat sensitivity, and b) resting-state EEG relative right frontal activity (rRFA), which relates to approach/withdrawal motivation. We examined these indices conjointly to better elucidate differential mechanisms underlying the common anxiety phenotype in youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), in relation to subjective reports of symptomatology and treatment response. EEG was recorded from 53 youth with ASD who participated in a 10-week social skills intervention (SSI). More negative ERN related to higher self-reported social anxiety symptoms at baseline, and predicted improvements in self-reported social anxiety symptoms following SSI. Although rRFA did not relate to anxiety symptoms at baseline, more rRFA predicted improvement in parent-reported anxiety domains but worsening in self-reported anxiety symptoms. This study provides evidence for unique neural mechanisms of anxiety symptoms and changes in anxiety after SSI in youth with ASD.

Keywords: Anxiety; Autism spectrum disorder; Electroencephalogram (EEG); Error-related negativity (ERN); Hemispheric asymmetry.