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. 2018 Aug;32(8):713-734.
doi: 10.1007/s40263-018-0556-y.

Social Skills Deficits in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Potential Biological Origins and Progress in Developing Therapeutic Agents

Free PMC article

Social Skills Deficits in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Potential Biological Origins and Progress in Developing Therapeutic Agents

Richard E Frye. CNS Drugs. .
Free PMC article


Autism spectrum disorder is defined by two core symptoms: a deficit in social communication and the presence of repetitive behaviors and/or restricted interests. Currently, there is no US Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for these core symptoms. This article reviews the biological origins of the social function deficit associated with autism spectrum disorder and the drug therapies with the potential to treat this deficit. A review of the history of autism demonstrates that a deficit in social interaction has been the defining feature of the concept of autism from its conception. Abnormalities identified in early social skill development and an overview of the pathophysiology abnormalities associated with autism spectrum disorder are discussed as are the abnormalities in brain circuits associated with the social function deficit. Previous and ongoing clinical trials examining agents that have the potential to improve social deficits associated with autism spectrum disorder are discussed in detail. This discussion reveals that agents such as oxytocin and propranolol are particularly promising and undergoing active investigation, while other agents such as vasopressin agonists and antagonists are being activity investigated but have limited published evidence at this time. In addition, agents such as bumetanide and manipulation of the enteric microbiome using microbiota transfer therapy appear to have promising effects on core autism spectrum disorder symptoms including social function. Other pertinent issues associated with developing treatments in autism spectrum disorder, such as disease heterogeneity, high placebo response rates, trial design, and the most appropriate way of assessing effects on social skills (outcome measures), are also discussed.

Conflict of interest statement

Richard E. Frye has no conflicts of interest directly relevant to the contents of this article.

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