Study: Oxytocin improves social behavior in some autism cases

Hormone may aid in the treatment of social impairments in children with autism whose baseline oxytocin levels are low.
By Amy Wallace  |  July 14, 2017 at 4:04 PM
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July 14 (UPI) -- Research from Stanford University School of Medicine found autistic children treated with oxytocin showed improved social behavior.

The study, published July 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found children with autism spectrum disorder with low oxytocin levels benefit from treatment with oxytocin.

"Our results suggest that some children with autism will benefit from oxytocin treatment more than others, and that blood oxytocin levels might be a biological sign that will allow us to predict if a child will respond maximally or not," Karen Parker, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, said in a Stanford news release.

The study consisted of 32 children with autism randomly assigned to receive an intranasal spray of oxytocin or a placebo spray, twice a day for four weeks.

Results showed children who received the oxytocin who had the lowest levels of the brain hormone at the beginning of the trial had the greatest improvements in social behavior.

A larger trial of the effects of oxytocin is currently underway at several sites throughout the United States.

"If our findings are replicated in the large NIH-funded trial, then I might consider doing baseline oxytocin measurements as part of my clinical practice to try to determine if specific patients will respond," Dr. Antonio Hardan, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, said.

"Hopefully, this is a first step to identifying the characteristics of people with autism who respond to specific treatments," Hardan said. "Because of the heterogeneity of the disorder, we need to start doing clinical trials not to see if there will be a response, but more to see who will respond to possible treatments."

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