Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a rare inherited genetic disorder causing severe intellectual disability and autistic-like symptoms. Individuals with FXS, males in particular, often exhibit extreme eye gaze avoidance and hyperarousal when they encounter stressful social situations. We investigated whether oxytocin (OT), a hormone with prosocial and anxiolytic effects, could alleviate symptoms of social anxiety in this population. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled single-dose trial was performed with intranasal administration of placebo, 24 IU OT and 48 IU OT. Measures of eye gaze frequency, heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), heart rate variability (HRV) and salivary cortisol were obtained during a structured social challenge conducted 50 min following OT administration. Ten low-functioning males with FXS (aged 13-28 years) traveled to Stanford for the initial visit: 8 completed the study. Eye gaze frequency improved significantly in response to the 24 IU OT dose and salivary cortisol levels decreased significantly in response to the 48 IU OT dose. There was no effect of OT on heart rate, RSA or HRV although individual plots of the heart rate data suggested that OT increased heart rate in some participants and decreased heart rate in others. These findings suggest that intranasal administration of OT may ameliorate some symptoms of social anxiety in patients with FXS. Further double-blind placebo-controlled studies of OT, conducted in combination with behavioral treatment programs, may be warranted.
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