Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Oxytocin and Autism: New Research

The Feb. 16, 2011 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) has a news article about Oxytocin and Autism reported by Bridget M. Kuehn.

The reporter interviewed Sue Carter PhD (University of Chicago) and Lowell Getz PhD (University of Illinois). These two scientists are working on prairie voles (a kind of mice) that are monogamous and live lifelong as pairs. These animals have complex family structure and express strong mother to offspring’s and mother to father bonds. Carter's group was able to demonstrate that giving oxytocin to a female vole promoted bonding with her mate, and that blocking the oxytocin receptors in females prevented them from forming bonds with their mates (Carter CS et al. Prog Brain Res. 2008;170:331-336). Ms, Kuehn goes on to say that oxytocin has long been known as a key factor in bonding between a mother and infant. It also has important physiological effects on pregnant women during and after delivery. A synthetic version of oxytocin is widely used to induce or augment labor. Intranasal oxytocin has also been used to promote the release of breast milk. Now, basic research on an unusual animal model has allowed scientists to understand the wider physiological effects of oxytocin. In the past several years, scientists have learned that oxytocin plays an important reinforcing role in social interactions that goes far beyond the previously documented effects of the hormone in female reproduction. Still, a host of questions remain about the hormone's wider physiological effects on humans, which range from aiding lactation to potentially promoting healing, noted Dr. Sue Carter, PhD, professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois, in Chicago. According to Larry J. Young, PhD, director of the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience at Emory University, in Atlanta, humans exposed to intranasal oxytocin make more eye contact (which is essential to reading social cues), feel increased trust in social interactions, and are better able to infer emotions from other people's facial expressions.
We realized that oxytocin isn't just a bonding hormone,” he said. “Oxytocin tunes the brain in to social cues.” Oxytocin's role in enhancing social interaction led researchers to wonder whether it might be a useful therapy for individuals with disorders that involve social deficits. For example, patients with autism spectrum disorders often fail to pick up on social cues, Dr.Young noted.
The data on the safety and effects of chronic use of oxytocin are limited because many human studies have involved only a single intranasal dose or several weeks of administration. “Oxytocin research is exciting and promising, but how the information should be applied is not clear,” Dr. Carter said in her interview. “What we have now are fragments of knowledge, and we can't yet see the full picture.”

Posted by Khalid Rehman.

1 comment:

Peggy said...

Here is a link to the full article: