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Oxytocin Spray Improves Brain Function in Children With Autism

Yale researchers see potential for hormone therapy (December 2)

A single dose of the hormone oxytocin, delivered via nasal spray, has been shown to enhance brain activity while processing social information in children with autism spectrum disorders, according to a report from the Yale School of Medicine. The new findings were published Dec. 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 17 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. The participants, between 8 and 17 years old, were randomly given either oxytocin spray or a placebo nasal spray during a task involving social judgments. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the brain and throughout the body.

“We found that brain centers associated with reward and emotion recognition responded more during social tasks when children received oxytocin instead of the placebo,” said lead author Dr. Ilanit Gordon. “Oxytocin temporarily normalized brain regions responsible for the social deficits seen in children with autism.”

Gordon said oxytocin facilitated social attunement, a process that makes the brain regions involved in social behavior and social cognition activate more for social stimuli (such as faces) and activate less for non-social stimuli (such as cars).

“Our results are particularly important considering the urgent need for treatments to target social dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders,” Gordon added.

Source: Yale University; December 2, 2013.

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