The neuropeptide oxytocin increased brain function in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders, according to preliminary results from an ongoing study by Yale University researchers. The results were presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Toronto.
“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,” Ilanit Gordon, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, said in a press release.
Gordon and colleagues are performing a double blind, randomized trial that includes 40 children and adolescents aged 7 to 18 years with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The participants are being randomly assigned to oxytocin and placebo nasal sprays on two consecutive visits. After administering the treatments, the researchers are using functional magnetic resonance brain imaging to observe the effect.
According to the study’s abstract, the administration of oxytocin resulted in “enhanced activation of the superior temporal sulcus region during perception of biological motion compared to the placebo.”
“Reading the Mind in the Eyes” tests revealed that oxytocin appears to have improved participants’ ability to accurately define and describe another’s mental state, besides enhancing brain activation in the medial prefrontal cortex, the superior temporal sulcus region, the temporal parietal gyrus and the fusiform gyrus, which are regions associated with social perception, mentalization, cognition and theory of mind abilities, the researchers wrote.
“These initial results are currently being expended,” they wrote, “but they provide a very promising and exciting indicator of the neural mechanisms’ underlying [oxytocin’s] impact on social perception and cognition in ASD.”
Gordon I. Oxytocin’s impact on social cognitive brain function in youth with ASD. Presented at: the International Meeting for Autism Research; May 17-19, 2012; Toronto.