Frontostriatal functional connectivity correlates with repetitive behaviour across autism spectrum disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder

Sophie E.A. Akkermans, Nicole Rheinheimer, Muriel M.K. Bruchhage, Sarah Durston, Daniel Brandeis, Tobias Banaschewski, Regina Boecker-Schlier, Isabella Wolf, Steven C.R. Williams, Jan K. Buitelaar, Daan Van Rooij, Marianne Oldehinkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


BackgroundAutism spectrum disorder (ASD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are neurodevelopmental disorders with considerable overlap in terms of their defining symptoms of compulsivity/repetitive behaviour. Little is known about the extent to which ASD and OCD have common versus distinct neural correlates of compulsivity. Previous research points to potentially common dysfunction in frontostriatal connectivity, but direct comparisons in one study are lacking. Here, we assessed frontostriatal resting-state functional connectivity in youth with ASD or OCD, and healthy controls. In addition, we applied a cross-disorder approach to examine whether repetitive behaviour across ASD and OCD has common neural substrates.MethodsA sample of 78 children and adolescents aged 8-16 years was used (ASD n = 24; OCD n = 25; healthy controls n = 29), originating from the multicentre study COMPULS. We tested whether diagnostic group, repetitive behaviour (measured with the Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised) or their interaction was associated with resting-state functional connectivity of striatal seed regions.ResultsNo diagnosis-specific differences were detected. The cross-disorder analysis, on the other hand, showed that increased functional connectivity between the left nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and a cluster in the right premotor cortex/middle frontal gyrus was related to more severe symptoms of repetitive behaviour.ConclusionsWe demonstrate the fruitfulness of applying a cross-disorder approach to investigate the neural underpinnings of compulsivity/repetitive behaviour, by revealing a shared alteration in functional connectivity in ASD and OCD. We argue that this alteration might reflect aberrant reward or motivational processing of the NAcc with excessive connectivity to the premotor cortex implementing learned action patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2247-2255
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • compulsivity
  • frontostriatal circuits
  • functional connectivity
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
  • nucleus accumbens
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • repetitive behaviour
  • resting state
  • striatum
  • transdiagnostic

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