Ilanit Gordon and colleagues from Yale University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel announced their discovery of the effects of the hormone oxytocin on the improvement of social deficit behaviors associated with autism in the Dec. 2, 2013, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A group of 17 children and adolescents between the ages of eight and 16 were randomly assigned to be given oxytocin in a nasal spray or a placebo. The trial participants were tested for changes in social responsiveness in social and nonsocial situations. The participant’s brain activity was monitored with magnetic resonance imaging during the trial.
The children that received oxytocin demonstrated higher levels of social behavior and social cognition and lower levels of response to nonsocial stimuli. The regions of the brain that are involved in social activity showed higher levels of activity than is normally seen in people with autism. Salivary concentrations of oxytocin were elevated in the participants that received the oxytocin nasal spray.
The researchers note that the resolution of the lack of social behaviors by oxytocin is temporary but the research does indicate a pathway for future research that can address one of the most troubling aspects of autism.