Background: A diagnostic hallmark of autism spectrum disorders is a qualitative impairment in social communication and interaction. Deficits in the ability to recognize the emotions of others are believed to contribute to this. There is currently no effective treatment for these problems.
Methods: In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover design, we administered oxytocin nasal spray (18 or 24 IU) or a placebo to 16 male youth aged 12 to 19 who were diagnosed with Autistic or Asperger's Disorder. Participants then completed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task, a widely used and reliable test of emotion recognition.
Results: In comparison with placebo, oxytocin administration improved performance on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task. This effect was also shown when analysis was restricted to the younger participants aged 12 to 15 who received the lower dose.
Conclusions: This study provides the first evidence that oxytocin nasal spray improves emotion recognition in young people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Findings suggest the potential of earlier intervention and further evaluation of oxytocin nasal spray as a treatment to improve social communication and interaction in young people with autism spectrum disorders.
Copyright 2010 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.