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Examining the bidirectional association between emotion recognition and ASD symptoms using observational and genetic analyses

By Zoe E Reed, Liam Mahedy, Abigail Jackson, George Davey Smith, Ian Penton-Voak, Angela S Attwood, Marcus R Munafo

Posted 23 May 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.21.20108761

BackgroundThere is mixed evidence for an association between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and emotion recognition deficits. We sought to assess the bidirectionality of this association using phenotypic and genetic data in a large community sample. MethodsAnalyses were conducted in three stages. First, we examined the bidirectional association between autistic traits at age 8 years and emotion recognition task (ERT) responses at age 24 years (Study 1; N=3,562); and between Diagnostic Analysis of Non-Verbal Accuracy (DANVA) emotion recognition responses at age 8 years and autistic traits at age 10 years (Study 2; N=9,071). Next, we used genetic analyses (Study 3) to examine the association between polygenic risk scores for ASD and these phenotypes. The genetic correlation between ASD and ERT responses at age 24 was also estimated. Analyses were conducted in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. ResultsAutistic traits at age 8 years were negatively associated with later total correct responses on ERT in Study 1 (b=-0.18; 95% CI: -0.27 to -0.09). We also found evidence of an association in Study 2 (b=-0.04; 95% CI: -0.05 to -0.03). We found the opposite association i.e., positive, between the ASD polygenic risk score and ERT (b=0.40; 95% CI: 0.10 to 0.70); however, this association varied across different p-value thresholds so should be interpreted with caution. We did not find evidence of a genetic correlation between ASD and ERT. ConclusionWe found an observational association between poorer emotion recognition and increased autistic traits. Our genetic analyses revealed an association between ASD polygenic risk and the ERT outcome, which may suggest a shared genetic aetiology between these or a potential causal pathway. Our results may inform interventions targeting emotion recognition.

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