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Sluggish vagal brake reactivity to physical exercise challenge in children with selective mutism

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journal contribution
posted on 06.12.2013, 00:00 authored by Keri J. Heilman, Sucheta D. Connolly, Wendy O. Padilla, Marika I. Wrzosek, Patricia A. Graczyk, Stephen W. Porges
Cardiovascular response patterns to laboratory-based social and physical exercise challenges were evaluated in 69 children and adolescents, 20 with selective mutism (SM), to identify possible neurophysiological mechanisms that may mediate the behavioral features of SM. Results suggest that SM is associated with a dampened response of the vagal brake to physical exercise that is manifested as reduced reactivity in heart rate and respiration. Polyvagal theory proposes that the regulation of the vagal brake is a neurophysiological component of an integrated social engagement system that includes the neural regulation of the laryngeal and pharyngeal muscles. Within this theoretical framework, sluggish vagal brake reactivity may parallel an inability to recruit efficiently the structures involved in speech. Thus, the findings suggest that dampened autonomic reactivity during mobilization behaviors may be a biomarker of SM that can be assessed independent of the social stimuli that elicit mutism.


The research described in this article was partially supported by Grant R01HD053570 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and by Training Grant T32 MH067631 from the National Institute of Mental Health.


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© 2012 by Cambridge University Press, Development and Psychopathology DOI: 10.1017/S0954579411000800


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