Children and adolescents with fragile X syndrome (FXS) manifest significant symptoms of anxiety, particularly in response to face-to-face social interaction. In this study, we used functional near-infrared spectroscopy to reveal a specific pattern of brain activation and habituation in response to face stimuli in young girls with FXS, an important but understudied clinical population.
Participants were 32 girls with FXS (age: 11.8 ± 2.9 years) and a control group of 28 girls without FXS (age: 10.5 ± 2.3 years) matched for age, general cognitive function, and autism symptoms. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy was used to assess brain activation during a face habituation task including repeated upright/inverted faces and greeble (nonface) objects.
Compared with the control group, girls with FXS showed significant hyperactivation in the frontopolar and dorsal lateral prefrontal cortices in response to all face stimuli (upright + inverted). Lack of neural habituation (and significant sensitization) was also observed in the FXS group in the frontopolar cortex in response to upright face stimuli. Finally, aberrant frontopolar sensitization in response to upright faces in girls with FXS was significantly correlated with notable cognitive-behavioral and social-emotional outcomes relevant to this condition, including executive function, autism symptoms, depression, and anxiety.
These findings strongly support a hypothesis of neural hyperactivation and accentuated sensitization during face processing in FXS, a phenomenon that could be developed as a biomarker end point for improving treatment trial evaluation in girls with this condition.
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Published online: September 20, 2021
Accepted: September 7, 2021
Received in revised form: September 2, 2021
Received: June 15, 2021
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