Beta-blocker may improve conversational skills of teens with ASD
A single dose of the beta-blocker propranolol improved conversational skills among a small cohort of older adolescents with autism spectrum disorder, according to recent research in Psychopharmacology.
“Propranolol was first reported to improve the language and sociability skills of individuals with autism in 1987, but it was not a randomized, controlled trial, and there has been little follow-up research on this drug in relation to autism,” David Q. Beversdorf, MD, associate professor in the departments of radiology, neurology and psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, said in a press release. “While its intended use is to treat high blood pressure, propranolol has been used off-label to treat performance anxiety for several years. However, this is the first study to show that a single dose of propranolol can improve the conversational reciprocity skills of individuals with autism.”
David Q. Beversdorf
The researchers conducted a double blind study with a cohort of 20 patients with ASD. Study participants were randomly assigned a placebo or a 40-mg dose of propranolol 1 hour before conversational testing. The researchers then conducted a structured conversation with study participants, scoring their performance on social skills. The tested skills included: staying on topic, sharing information, reciprocity, interruptions, nonverbal communication and eye contact. The researchers also administered self-reporting anxiety questionnaires to participants to gauge propranolol’s effect on perception of anxiety.
Study results showed that participants in the propranolol group had significantly improved scores in conversation reciprocity and nonverbal communication, compared with placebo participants. The researchers also noted higher overall scores in the propranolol group vs. the placebo group (P = .03).
Beversdorf and colleagues also found that propranolol did not affect scores for self-reported anxiety.
“Though more research is needed to study its effects after more than one dose, these preliminary results show a potential benefit of propranolol to improve the conversational and nonverbal skills of individuals with autism,” Beversdorf said in the release. “Next, we hope to study the drug in a large clinical trial to establish the effects of regular doses and determine who would most likely benefit from this medication.” – by David Costill
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.