Nasal spray containing oxytocin led to improved social responsiveness among young children with autism, according to study findings in Molecular Psychiatry.
“The diagnosed incidence of autism is estimated to be 1 in 68 children. However, effective interventions have remained limited,” CJ Yatawara, PhD, of the University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues wrote. “Some psychotropic drugs, such as risperidone, seem to alleviate behavioral problems but they are often associated with adverse events. There is also little evidence for effective pharmacotherapy to alleviate core social diagnostic features. Alternatively, behavioral interventions significantly improve impairments, but they are typically time-consuming and costly.”
To assess efficacy, tolerability and safety of an oxytocin treatment among young children with autism, researchers conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover clinical trial. In phase one, 31 children, aged 3 to 8 years, were randomly assigned to oxytocin or placebo nasal spray, which both contained sorbitol, benzyl alcohol glycerol and distilled water. In phase two, participants used the alternate nasal spray. Overall, children received 12 IU of oxytocin and placebo nasal spray morning and night for 5 weeks, with a 4-week washout period between each treatment.
Oxytocin led to significant improvements in caregiver-rated social responsiveness compared with placebo.
Nasal spray was well-tolerated, according to researchers. Thirst, urination and constipation were the most common reported adverse events.
“Among children with autism aged between 3 and 8 years, a 5-week course of oxytocin nasal spray improved caregiver-rated social responsiveness compared with placebo. Oxytocin treatment was found to be well-tolerated and there were no significant differences in the report of adverse events between conditions. These findings require confirmation in larger studies with potential for development of a first medical treatment for social impairments in child autism,” the researchers concluded. – by Amanda Oldt
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.