Beta-adrenergic antagonism modulates functional connectivity in the default mode network of individuals with and without autism spectrum disorder


The beta-adrenergic antagonist propranolol benefits some social and communication domains affected in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and these benefits appear to be associated with increased functional connectivity (FC) in the brain during task performance. FC is implicated in ASD, with the majority of studies suggesting long distance hypo-connectivity combined with regionally specific local hyper-connectivity. The objective in the current investigation was to examine the effect of propranolol on FC at rest and determine whether ASD-specific effects exist. Participants with and without ASD attended three sessions in which propranolol, nadolol (a beta-adrenergic antagonist that does not cross the blood-brain barrier), or placebo were administered. Resting-state fMRI data were acquired, and graph theory techniques were utilized to assess additional aspects of FC. Compared to placebo, propranolol administration was associated with decreased FC in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex subnetwork of the default mode network and increased FC in the medial temporal lobe subnetwork, regardless of diagnosis. These effects were not seen with nadolol suggesting that the alterations in FC following propranolol administration were not exclusively due to peripheral cardiovascular effects. Thus, beta-adrenergic antagonism can up- or down- regulate FC, depending on the network, and alter coordinated functional activation in the brain. These changes in information processing, as demonstrated by FC, may mediate some of the clinical and behavioral effects of beta-adrenergic antagonism previously reported in patients with ASD.

Brain Imaging and Behavior, 11(5), 1278–1289