A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first ever to demonstrate that administering the “love hormone” oxytocin to children with autism leads to the normalization of the reward and emotion centers in the brains of those with the condition.
Autistic children typically have lower levels of the neurotransmitter oxytocin in their blood, along with impaired social and communication skills. While studies have been performed before on the effects of oxytocin on behavior, this study represents the first time anyone has looked at the effects of the oxytocin treatment on the brains of autistic children. The finding suggests that oxytocin may prove to be an effective treatment after further research, said Kevin Pelphrey, study author and professor in the Yale Child Study Center.
The study was performed by treating 21 autistic children, aged eight to 16, with an oxytocin nasal spray. Subjects viewed social stimuli, a pair of eyes and a nonsocial stimuli, a vehicle, and resulting brain activity was measured in an fMRI scanner.