Sensory Processing in Neurodevelopment

Studies have shown that children with neurodevelopmental conditions including autism, ADHD, and Tourette syndrome, often show sensory difficulties. This could show itself in for instance hyper- or hyporesponsiveness to touch, or a difficulty habituating to repetitive stimulation. Our interest lies in what brain mechanisms might explain these tactile differences in children.

Using a battery of tactile tasks we have shown that condition-specific differences in low-level tactile perception (detection/discrimination) are associated with condition-specific clinical difficulties, in children with autism, autism and ADHD, and ADHD, suggesting that perhaps, these sensory differences underlie the manifestation of some core symptoms of these conditions.1

Children’s ability to detect weak stimuli correlates with clinical measures of hyper- and hyporesponsivity. Figure from:

In our work we combine sensory measures with edited Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy to measure brain GABA and Glx (glutamate and glutamine). We have previously shown that reduced brain GABA in autism is associated with less-effective touch perception. Recently we showed that differences in Glx relate to worse sensory perception and worse clinical severity as well.2

Differences in brain GABA and Glutamate (or Glx)have been shown in ADHD and Tourette syndrome. Of particular interest is that we see dissociated relationships between neurometabolites and behavioral, TMS, or EEG markers in these conditions.

We continue to pursue this work, looking at larger samples (e.g. in the AIMS-2-TRIALS consortium and in a Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation funded consortium). We are further studying the impact on core and co-occurring features such as anxiety, and the biological and genetic underpinnings of sensory difficulties. Finally, we aim to modulate the biological system underlying these sensory challenges.

  1. He JL, Wodka E, Tommerdahl M, Edden RAE, Mikkelsen M, Mostofsky SH, Puts NAJ. Disorder-specific alterations of tactile sensitivity in neurodevelopmental disorders. Commun Biol. 2021 Jan 22;4(1):97. PMID: 33483581; PMCID: PMC7822903.
  2. 2.He JL, Oeltzschner G, Mikkelsen M, DeRonda A, Harris AD, Crocetti D,  Wodka EL, Mostofsky SH, Edden RAE, Puts NAJ. Region-specific elevations of glutamate + glutamine correlate with the sensory symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. Transl Psych 2021. for the preprint