Hormone oxytocin found to increase activity in social regions of the brain in children with autism
Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone
Oxytocin is called the “bonding hormone” for its effects during and after childbirth
New studies are underway to determine effects when paired with social and behavioral therapy
Oxytocin, the hormone released during childbirth, may eventually help people with autism a new study finds. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone that is released during and after childbirth which assists with maternal bonding, and is sometimes referred to as the “bonding hormone.” The hormone is destroyed by way of the gastrointestinal tract, and therefore must be administered either intravenously, or by inhalation. It is currently used for labor induction and, “to support labor in case of difficult parturition,” according to Wikipedia.
In the new study on oxytocin, Yale researchers used MRI technology to monitor the brain function of 17 children with autism spectrum disorder. The participants each inhaled either oxytocin, or a placebo before being asked to perform a task of either identifying a human emotion shown by a picture of a person’s eyes, or a vehicle.
While the results did not vary dependent upon the use of oxytocin, researchers noted that the social areas of the brain in the children who were performing the task of identifying human emotion by reading eyes showed an increase in activity, while the social areas of those asked to identify vehicles decreased in activity.
“What’s happening in the brain, we think, is that oxytocin is improving how well we are tuning in to social stimuli, to a social world,” states Ilanit Gordon, who worked as an experimental psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center, reports the Boston Globe.
Other research into oxytocin in regards to behavioral response has had mixed results, which leads researchers to believe that there is much more to be studied with this hormone. John Gabrieli a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is beginning a study of the effects of using the hormone as a method of enhancing social and behavioral therapy effects in young adults with autism spectrum disorders.