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Advances in the Oxytocin Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Posted By Yurong Fei-Bloom
Tags: Endocrinology

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. ASD covers a range of complex developmental disorders that have varying symptoms, skills, and levels of disability. Some individuals are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. People with high functioning autism have average or above average intelligence but may struggle with issues related to social interaction and communication. Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 68 children in the United States have been identified with some form of ASD.

Risk factors and treatment for autism

The exact cause of ASD is unknown, however, genetics and environmental factors are thought to increase the risk. Some risk factors include: gender – boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls; having a sibling with ASD; having older parents (both mother and father who are 35 or older); genetics – about 20% of children with ASD also have certain genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis. Early treatment for ASD and proper care can reduce individuals’ difficulties while helping them learn new skills and make the most of their strengths. Due to the wide range of symptoms, there is no single best treatment for ASD. There are no medications that can cure ASD, but medications and therapies can help reduce symptoms, support development, and assist the individual in daily functions.

Oxytocin physiology

Oxytocin, often known as the love hormone, has been one of the most studied peptides of the human neuroendocrine system. Oxytocin is made in the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland. It is involved in regulating key aspects of the reproductive system, human behavior including social interaction, and can also induce anti-stress effects. The mechanism through which oxytocin exerts its effect is complex and not well understood.

Therapeutic potential of oxytocin for autism

Previous studies have suggested that long-term oxytocin administration can alleviate the core symptoms in adults with autism. However, efficacy of oxytocin in pediatrics remains controversial. Dr. Kosaka and colleagues from the Research Center for Child Mental Development at University of Fukui, Japan, conducted a 24 week phase 2 clinical trial with high-functioning autism individuals to determine whether oxytocin dosage and genetic background of oxytocin receptor affects oxytocin efficacy. This clinical trial included a high dose (32 IU per day), low dose intranasal oxytocin (16 IU per day), and the placebo group. Researchers also measured single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the oxytocin receptor gene. They found that > 21 IU per day oxytocin was more effective than a lower dose in male participates. Additionally, the SNP in the oxytocin receptor (rs6791619) predicted the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scores for ≤ 21 IU per day oxytocin treatment. Using Enzo’s Oxytocin ELISA kit, plasma oxytocin levels were determined at weeks 0, 12, and 24 with no significant changes in non-extracted plasma oxytocin levels between groups and for the duration of the trials. Overall, Dr. Kosaka and colleagues’ clinical studies suggest that dosage and oxytocin receptor genotype affect the efficacy of oxytocin treatment in young men with high-functioning autism.

Future studies on oxytocin for autism treatment

This study highlighted the dose and genetically dependent efficacy of oxytocin for young males with high- functioning ASD. This data will help guide therapeutic treatment to people with ASD. Additional studies on the safety and efficacy at various oxytocin dosages and administration periods need to be determined. Further examination of the link between OXTR gene polymorphisms and gender, and how they can affect oxytocin efficacy is required. A larger sample size may also be necessary. As no significant changes in the plasma oxytocin levels were determined, additional non-extraction methodologies may be required to provide effective oxytocin treatment of ASD.

Enzo Life Sciences offers comprehensive tools for advancing research, including our ultra-sensitive, highly specific Oxytocin ELISA kit and molecular biology reagents.

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  1. H. Kosaka, et al. Oxytocin efficacy is modulated by dosage and oxytocin receptor genotype in young adults with high-functioning autism: a 24-week randomized clinical trial. Transl. Psychiatry. (2016) 6: e872.

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