Oxytocin: Can the “Love Hormone” Help People With Autism?

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Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone,” but it is so much more than that. It is also responsible for trust, bonding, and fear. Photo by Calvero.

What Does This Mean For Autism?

Oxytocin strengthens information transfer and decreases spontaneous background noise in the hippocampus. The sharpening of information circuits in the brain can go awry in autism. Since people with autism have lower oxytocin levels, this could result in poorer signal and noise processing.

Since the research on this topic is still in its infancy, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before it can help those with autism.

Owen et al’s preliminary findings do suggest a strong correlation between oxytocin and neural activity, but more studies that advance and confirm this relationship are necessary.

Oxytocin Nasal Spray and the Future of Autism Treatments

The link between autism and oxytocin is established, now all that remains is additional study, such as recent research showing a link between autism and pitocin to augment childbirth. Currently there is a large clinical trial that uses an oxytocin nasal spray in hopes of helping people with autism improve social skills and communication. Whether this works for everyone is unclear, and research is under way to determine who benefits from oxytocin and the best method for administration of the hormone.

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center continue to study the effects of oxytocin on the brain, as well as many other areas of brain pathology and disease states.

References:

Owen et al. Oxytocin enhances hippocampal spike transmission by modulating fast-spiking interneurons. (2013). Nature. Accessed September 12, 2013.

PsychCentral. About Oxytocin. (2013). Accessed September 12, 2013.

Dadds, Mark. No oxytocin benefit for autism. (2013). UNSW Newsroom. Accessed September 12, 2013.

Autism Speaks. Researchers Launch Study with Oxytocin Nasal Spray. (2013). Accessed September 12, 2013.

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