Positive Results for Intranasal Oxytocin in Adults With Autism

Budapest, Hungary — Twice daily intranasal oxytocin has been associated with improved social functioning, quality of life, and overall symptoms in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), results of a small randomized control trial showed. “One of the challenges for adults with autism is experiencing poor social interactions and difficulties in making friends. Insufficient social support from peers, friends, and family members can contribute to loneliness in adolescents with ASD, which in turn leads to anxiety, sadness, and social isolation,” said study investigator Saba Faraji Niri, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry, Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran. Recent US data show is relatively common. In addition, previous research suggests intranasal oxytocin significantly increases activity in brain regions that play a role in establishing social interactions. To evaluate the therapeutic effects and safety of intranasal oxytocin the researchers randomly assigned 39 adult patients with ASD to receive intranasal oxytocin or placebo with 24 units administered every 12 hours for 8 weeks. Faraji Niri said study participants were required to stop all psychotropic medications for at least 8 weeks prior to study entry. Participants were assessed at baseline and weeks 4 and 8 using the Autism Quotient, Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale — Revised (RAADS-R), Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scale, and the World Health Organization Quality of Life-BREF (WHOQL-BREF) questionnaire. Adverse events were also evaluated. Faraji Niri said that those receiving intranasal oxytocin showed clinical improvement on RAADS-R scores ( P = .010), as well as on the social communication subscale of the SRS ( P = .002), the CGI scale ( P = .000), and the physical ( P = .004), psychological ( P = .006), and social relationships ( P = .046) domains of the WHOQL-BREF.  However, although the findings were positive, she said at this point it’s not possible to draw any definitive conclusions. She noted the study had several potential confounders. These included differences in baseline levels of endogenous oxytocin among study participants individuals, as well as difference in required treatment doses, which were adjusted by age and sex. The presence of comorbidities and interactions with other treatments could also affect the results. Commenting on the findings for Medscape Medical News, session chair Szabolcs Kéri, PhD, Professor, Sztárai Institute, University of Tokaj, Sárospatak, Hungary, said the use of oxytocin for ASD is controversial. He said that while the research contributes to the scientific debate, the clinical significance of the findings is unclear. The investigators and Dr Keri reported no relevant financial disclosures.

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