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'Bonding' Hormone Might Help Some With Autism
Date:2/15/2010

High-functioning patients grasped interpersonal cues better after oxytocin treatment

MONDAY, Feb. 15 (HealthDay News) -- People with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome were better able to "catch" social cues after inhaling the hormone oxytocin, new research shows.

Oxytocin,which is produced in abundance when a mother is breast-feeding her baby, is known as the "bonding" hormone.

Although there are many kinks to be worked out, experts feel the strategy holds promise to treat one of the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

"When you start thinking of a hormone that can actually encourage pro-social behavior, you're talking about potentially significant changes in quality of life," said Clara Lajonchere, a vice president of clinical programs at the advocacy group Autism Speaks and a clinical assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.

"In the absence of intellectual deficits, the areas where they have the greatest struggle is around social communication and social connectedness," she continued. "These people can't interpret other people's perceptions, they can't read social cues, they don't make eye contact."

While there are drugs for the secondary symptoms of autism, such as irritability and aggression, doctors have nothing yet for the core symptoms in the areas of language, social interaction and intellectual deficits.

Prior studies have shown a strong effect of oxytocin on people with autism, as well as on people who are not on the autism disorders spectrum. One study found that autistic people seem to have a lower sensitivity to oxytocin than people without the disorder.

"There's no doubt that oxytocin has a big effect on social interactions in anyone. It's almost like a designer drug, a drug which has a selective effect on a behavior in the normal range," said Keith Young, vice chairman of research in psychiatry
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