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Oxytocin Increases Retention of Social Cognition in Autism

      Background

      Oxytocin dysfunction might contribute to the development of social deficits in autism, a core symptom domain and potential target for intervention. This study explored the effect of intravenous oxytocin administration on the retention of social information in autism.

      Methods

      Oxytocin and placebo challenges were administered to 15 adult subjects diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s disorder, and comprehension of affective speech (happy, indifferent, angry, and sad) in neutral content sentences was tested.

      Results

      All subjects showed improvements in affective speech comprehension from pre- to post-infusion; however, whereas those who received placebo first tended to revert to baseline after a delay, those who received oxytocin first retained the ability to accurately assign emotional significance to speech intonation on the speech comprehension task.

      Conclusions

      These results are consistent with studies linking oxytocin to social recognition in rodents as well as studies linking oxytocin to prosocial behavior in humans and suggest that oxytocin might facilitate social information processing in those with autism. These findings also provide preliminary support for the use of oxytocin in the treatment of autism.

      Key Words

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