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Oxytocin beneficial in young children with Prader-Willi syndrome

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September 8, 2016

Treatment with intranasal oxytocin improves social and food-related behaviors in children with Prader-Willi syndrome younger than 11 years, study data show.

Renske J. Kuppens, MD, of Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, and colleagues evaluated 25 children aged 6 to 14 years with Prader-Willi syndrome to determine the effects of intranasal oxytocin (dose range, 24-48 IU per day) for 4 weeks compared with placebo on social behavior and hyperphagia. Participants received oxytocin or placebo for 4 weeks and then crossed over to the other treatment for another 4 weeks.

Among the group overall, no effects of oxytocin compared with placebo were found for social behavior, food intake or satiety. However, among younger children, oxytocin treatment had a beneficial effect on social (P = .004) and eating behavior (P = .014); this observation led researchers to divide participants into two groups, those younger than 11 years (n = 17) and those older than 11 years (n = 8).

Questionnaires about social behavior were completed by parents of the younger age group. Parents reported improved anger (P = .001), sadness (P = .005) and conflicts (P = .01) in children during oxytocin treatment compared with placebo. Food-related behaviors also improved in the younger age group during oxytocin treatment (P = .011), whereas food-seeking behavior and satiety remained similar.

“Nowadays, most parents of children with [Prader-Willi syndrome] have made all kind of adjustments in everyday life to limit access to food. ... However, the baseline food-related behavior scores show that these children are still preoccupied with food,” the researchers wrote. “Oxytocin treatment decreased this food-related behavior, which argues that oxytocin has an inhibiting effect on the hyperphagia, despite the lack of effects on food-seeking behavior and satiety.”

In the analyses of the older age group, no beneficial effects of oxytocin were found for social behavior. Compared with placebo, oxytocin negatively influenced happiness (P = .039), anger (P = .042) and sadness (P = .042). Food-related behavior, food-seeking behavior and satiety remained similar during oxytocin treatment. – by Amber Cox

For more information:

Renske J. Kuppens, MD, can be reached at

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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