Prosocial effects of oxytocin in two mouse models of autism spectrum disorders

Neuropharmacology. 2013 Sep;72:187-96. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2013.04.038. Epub 2013 May 3.


Clinical evidence suggests that oxytocin treatment improves social deficits and repetitive behavior in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). However, the neuropeptide has a short plasma half-life and poor ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. In order to facilitate the development of more bioavailable oxytocinergic compounds as therapeutics to treat core ASD symptoms, small animal models must be validated for preclinical screens. This study examined the preclinical utility of two inbred mouse strains, BALB/cByJ and C58/J, that exhibit phenotypes relevant to core ASD symptoms. Mice from both strains were intraperitoneally administered oxytocin, using either acute or sub-chronic regimens. Acute oxytocin did not increase sociability in BALB/cByJ; however, sub-chronic oxytocin had significant prosocial effects in both BALB/cByJ and C58/J. Increased sociability was observed 24 h following the final oxytocin dose in BALB/cByJ, while prosocial effects of oxytocin emerged 1-2 weeks post-treatment in C58/J. Furthermore, acute oxytocin decreased motor stereotypy in C58/J and did not induce hypoactivity or anxiolytic-like effects in an open field test. This study demonstrates that oxytocin administration can attenuate social deficits and repetitive behavior in mouse models of ASD, dependent on dose regimen and genotype. These findings provide validation of the BALB/cByJ and C58/J models as useful platforms for screening novel drugs for intervention in ASDs and for elucidating the mechanisms contributing to the prosocial effects of oxytocin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / complications*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / drug therapy
  • Choice Behavior / drug effects
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Female
  • Impulsive Behavior / drug therapy
  • Impulsive Behavior / etiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Oxytocin / therapeutic use*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Behavior Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / etiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Stereotyped Behavior / drug effects*
  • Time Factors


  • Oxytocin