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21 May 2012
Oxytocin shows promise for treating autism

The first results from an ongoing Yale study show that oxytocin increased responsiveness in brain regions that are known to process social information in children and adolescents. Oxytocin, sometimes called the love hormone, is a naturally occurring substance produced in the brain and throughout the body. The findings were presented last week at the International Meeting for Autism Research.

Yale researcher Ilanit Gordon explained that while a great deal of progress has been made in the field of autism research, there remain few effective treatments and none that directly target the core social dysfunction. Oxytocin has recently received attention for its involvement in regulating social abilities because of its role in many aspects of social behavior and social cognition in humans and other species.

To assess the impact of oxytocin on the brain function, Gordon and her team conducted a placebo-controlled study on children and adolescents aged 7 to 18 with autism spectrum disorder. The team members gave the children a single dose of oxytocin in a nasal spray and used functional magnetic resonance brain imaging to observe its effect.

The team found that oxytocin increased activations in brain regions known to process social information. Gordon said these brain activations were linked to tasks involving multiple social information processing routes, such as seeing, hearing, and processing information relevant to understanding other people.

"Our findings provide the first, critical steps toward devising more effective treatments for the core social deficits in autism, which may involve a combination of clinical interventions with an administration of oxytocin," said Gordon. "Such a treatment approach will fundamentally improve our understanding of autism and its treatment."

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Source: Yale University

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