Oxytocin Hormone May Treat Autism
Study Shows Oxytocin May Improve Social Skills for Some People With Autism
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 15, 2010 -- Oxytocin, the so-called hormone of love, may help promote
social skills and social behavior in people with high-functioning autism.
A new study shows people with high-functioning autism disorders, such as
Asperger's syndrome, who were treated with oxytocin responded more strongly to
others and displayed more appropriate social behaviors.
Despite high intellectual abilities, people with high-functioning autism
lack the social skills to engage appropriately with others in social
Oxytocin is nicknamed the hormone of love because it is known to promote
mother-infant bonds. It is also thought to be involved in the regulation of
emotions and other social behaviors. Other research has found that children
with autism have lower levels of oxytocin than children without autism.
In this study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, researchers examined the effect of inhaled oxytocin on social
behavior in 13 young adults with high-functioning autism in two separate
experiments. A comparable group of 13 people without autism was also included
in the study.
In the first experiment, researchers observed the participants' social
behavior in a computer ball-tossing game in which the players could choose
between passing the ball to a good, bad, or neutral character.
Typically, people with autism would exhibit little preference between the
three choices, but in the experiment those treated with oxytocin engaged more
with the good character and sent more balls to the good character than the bad
one. People with autism who were given a placebo showed no difference in the
way they responded to the three characters. The comparison group without autism
sent more balls to the good character.
In the second experiment, researchers measured the participants'
attentiveness and responses to pictures of human faces. Those treated with
oxytocin were more attentive to visual cues in the pictures and looked longer
at the socially informative region of the face, namely the eyes.
"Thus, under oxytocin, patients respond more strongly to others and exhibit
more appropriate social behavior and affect, suggesting a therapeutic potential
of oxytocin through its action on a core dimension of autism," write researcher
Elissar Andari of the Centre Nátional de la Recherche Scientifique in Bron,
France, and colleagues.
They say the results suggest further long-term studies are needed to examine
the effects of oxytocin on social skills and behaviors in people with