Oxytocin may improve social skills in autistic children

Sniffing on oxytocin may ease symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in children, researchers have found.

According to researchers at the Yale University, the smell of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for love and emotional bonding, can help improve social behavior in autistic children.

Oxytocin, dubbed as the “love hormone,” stimulates the regions of the brain responsible for regulating social behavior. Oxytocin makes a person compassionate and improves ability to bond socially. It also decreases repetitive behaviors, the characteristic of autism.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers enrolled 17 children between ages 8-16 years. All children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

In the first round, the subjects were randomly assigned to receive either an oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo nasal spray. Later, participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, to gauge how their brains reacted to the stimuli.

Second time around, the participants were switched. The ones who received active sprays were now administered the placebo and vice-versa. The children again underwent MRI scans.

While the subjects were inside the MRI machines, they were showed the pictures of faces and asked to tell about the emotions exhibited on their face.

“They had to say whether it was calm or worried, form a couple of emotional choices, and they did that from just (looking at) the eyes of the face,” study’s lead author Kevin Pelphrey said. “In addition, sometimes they would (also) see the front of a (vehicle) and they were asked, ‘Is this a car, truck or bus?’”

The brain scans of children after receiving oxytocin displayed greater activity in the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens, the regions of the brain responsible for regulating social behavior, researchers highlighted.

“In autism, we know both of those regions fail to activate to faces. When you give a placebo, you see they are basically silent,” Pelphrey marked. “But when you give oxytocin and show faces, those brain regions activate and come online.”

The findings of the study are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.