Oxytocin activates social regions of the brain in kids with ASD

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Another study has been released showing the benefit of oxytocin for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Children with ASD experienced enhanced brain activity after a single dose of the hormone oxytocin administered through a nasal spray while engaging with social information.

What is oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone that has been implicated in social bonding. It has been referred to as the “love hormone” and the “bonding hormone”. Other research has recently found that oxytocin stimulates the reward center in the brain increasing attractiveness of others as well as strengthening monogamy. This is the first study to look at how oxytocin affects brain function in children with ASD.

Enhanced brain activity in social centers

The research team from Yale conducted a double blind, placebo controlled experiment involving 17 children and adolescents with ASDs between the ages of 8 and 17. After given an oxytocin or placebo nasal spray, they measured brain activity through fMRI while the children judged both socially and non-socially meaningful pictures. Researchers found that, compared with the placebo group, the children who used the oxytocin experienced enhanced brain activity. This would be a benefit to people with ASD since they have difficulty with communication and social interaction skills.

Helped with deficits in social function

“We found that brain centers associated with reward and emotion recognition responded more during social tasks when children received oxytocin instead of the placebo. Oxytocin temporarily normalized brain regions responsible for the social deficits seen in children with autism,” said Ilanit Gordon. The hormone assisted social attunement, the process whereby brain regions involved with social behavior and cognition are activated more for social stimuli and less for non-social stimuli.

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

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

 
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