Help for Autists from Nasal Spray?
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15 February, 2010
Drug With ‘Bonding’ Hormone Oxytocin Makes Them More Sociable & Trusting
Scientists have found that some symptoms of autism can be alleviated by a nasal spray containing oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone.
People with autism who inhaled the spray altered their behaviour temporarily, becoming more sociable and trusting.
Autism and Asperger’s, a related syndrome, impede the ability to communicate or form relationships. Many people with the conditions find it difficult even to meet someone else’s eye.
The research, which has been peer–reviewed, was carried out on 13 patients with high–functioning autism, defined as those of normal or above–normal intelligence.
After inhaling the hormone, the patients rapidly became more open.
“Under oxytocin, patients with high–functioning autism respond more strongly to others and exhibit more appropriate social behaviour,” wrote Elissar Andari, of the Institut des Sciences Cognitives, a French government centre for neuroscience research, in a summary of a recent conference presentation.
Such a therapy would be a key breakthrough, if proven. About 500,000 Britons have autism or Asperger’s syndrome, with many suffering exclusion from school and long–term unemployment because of the associated behavioural problems.
In a summary of her presentation to the Mediterranean Conference of Neuroscience, held in Egypt, Andari said the results “suggested a therapeutic potential of oxytocin through its action on a core dimension of autism”.
The researchers point out that the effects of the nasal spray are transient and the findings do not mean that a therapy is imminent. Any proposed medication would have to undergo extensive testing, which could take years.
In the study, Andari and her colleagues asked their 13 subjects to inhale oxytocin and then to undergo two tests to see if the hormone had altered their behaviour.
One test involved playing a simulated ball game on a PC with three virtual players. After inhaling oxytocin, the 13 patients could work out which of the virtual players was most co–operative and trustworthy much more effectively than subjects who had received a placebo.