A SINGLE spray of the hormone oxytocin can temporarily help children with autism overcome their disorder, research has shown.
Scientists studied 17 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders who were randomly treated either with an oxytocin nasal spray or an inactive dummy compound.
“We found that brain centres associated with reward and emotion recognition responded more during social tasks when children received oxytocin instead of the placebo,” said lead scientist Dr Ilanit Gordon, from Yale University in the US.
“Oxytocin temporarily normalised brain regions responsible for the social deficits seen in children with autism.”
The study was the first to evaluate the impact of the hormone on the brain function of young people.
Oxytocin, nicknamed the ‘cuddle’ or ‘love hormone’, plays key roles in social activity.
Research has shown that it helps to seal the bond between loving couples as well as mothers and their babies. It also appears to make people more trusting and generous.
In the study, oxytocin caused the brains of autistic children to respond more to social stimuli – such as faces – and less to non-social stimuli, such as cars.
“Our results are particularly important considering the urgent need for treatments to target social dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders,” said Dr Gordon.
Autism spectrum disorders cover a range of developmental problems.
This article first appeared on ‘Medical Observer’ on 4 December 2013.