Intranasal oxytocin ineffective for autism in large trial

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14 Oct 2021, 7:35 am


An intranasal form of the hormone oxytocin is no more effective than placebo at increasing social behaviors in autistic children, according to what may be the largest clinical trial of the treatment to date. The results were published today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Because of oxytocin’s role in strengthening social bonds, researchers have considered it as a candidate treatment for autism for more than a decade.

But the new results, based on 250 autistic children, suggest that “oxytocin, at least in its current form, is probably not helpful for the majority of kids with autism,” says Evdokia Anagnostou, professor of pediatrics at University of Toronto in Canada, who was not involved in the new work.

The null results “change things,” says lead researcher Linmarie Sikich, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development in Durham, North Carolina. “Most people still felt like there was a good chance that this would be treatment for many people with autism.”

This type of research is prone to publication bias, in which non-significant results are less likely to be published than significant ones, says Daniel Quintana, senior researcher in biological psychiatry at the University of Oslo in Norway, who was not involved in the study. For that reason, the new work is “an important contribution to the field,” he says, but “it does not alone put to rest the idea of using intranasal oxytocin as an autism treatment.”

The autistic children in the trial, aged 3 to 17 years, inhaled a nasal spray containing either oxytocin or a placebo for 24 weeks. The participants started on a low dose of the hormone, administered once per day. If that dosage was well tolerated, it was gradually increased over time to a higher dose twice per day.

The participants’ parents or guardians filled out a series of questionnaires to rate their child’s social behaviors at the start of the trial and at regular intervals thereafter.

Four weeks into the trial, participants in both groups showed improvements in social withdrawal, according to a modified portion of the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, the trial’s primary outcome measure. Those changes persisted for the remainder of the trial. Both groups also showed gains in sociability and social motivation, as measured by the Pervasive Developmental Disorders Behavior Inventory and the Social Responsiveness Scale, respectively. The results did not vary with the participants’ ages, verbal abilities or blood levels of oxytocin.

In September, a small trial of intranasal oxytocin in children with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, a neurodevelopmental condition that often results in autism, similarly found no effect on social behaviors reported by parents.

“The issue of how we measure social behavior is one that the field is grappling with and remains unresolved,” says Adam Guastella, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Sydney in Australia, who was not involved in either study.

As researchers have learned more about oxytocin’s role in the brain, ideas about how it affects social behavior have shifted, says Larry Young, director of the Translational Center for Neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who was not involved in either of the new studies. The hormone is now understood not to enhance sociability in general, but to increase the salience of social stimuli, he says, which helps people better perceive and learn from things such as facial expressions and body movements.

Given this new understanding, pairing oxytocin treatment with some type of behavioral training may prove to be a more effective way to harness the hormone’s effect as a treatment, Young says.

In the parts of the article I posted and elsewhere in the article a lot of grasping at straws because deep down researchers think it should work.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman

Last edited by ASPartOfMe on 14 Oct 2021, 7:52 am, edited 2 times in total.


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14 Oct 2021, 7:50 am

I read about oxytocin trial and I’m convinced many of these NT scientists haven’t a clue about autism or what it’s like.

The social problems are largely a symptom of messaging faults causing poor communication and the inability to have the right words to speak.

Not a choice to be antisocial

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man."

- George Bernie Shaw


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14 Oct 2021, 4:52 pm

Unsurprising. And a bit old of a news.

Social drive and sense of attachment is a rather irrelevant factor in social skills -- only of that social learning.
But that social learning is still largely manual.

If that were relevant, then autistics shouldn't felt loneliness, shouldn't long for attachments, wouldn't attempt masking, wouldn't had to still learn social skills manually voluntarily.

Researchers had to figure the cognitive side of social skills, not the emotional component.

Furthermore, autism isn't like schizophrenia in that regard.

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