A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2020 | Number 1, Volume 34

Brief administration of the hormone oxytocin may lead to long-term benefits for men

Men with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who receive intranasal oxytocin may have fewer repetitive behaviors and find it easier to form close relationships, a new study from Belgium suggests. 

Sylvie Bernaerts and colleagues measured saliva levels of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in bonding, in 40 men with ASD. The researchers found that levels of oxytocin were inversely related to self-reported attachment issues. 

Bernaerts and her team then administered intranasal oxytocin to half of the men for four weeks, giving the other half of the men a placebo. They followed the study participants for one year, evaluating them on four different occasions. 

The researchers report that there was no difference in social interaction between the active and placebo groups. However, the men in the experimental group reported significantly less repetitive behavior and fewer problems in forming close relationships. 

Study coauthor Kaat Alaerts comments, “Participants who took oxytocin every day for four weeks experienced positive effects until up to a year later. That’s a remarkable result.” However, she notes that this was a pilot study, saying, “A lot of further research needs to be done before oxytocin can be used to treat people with autism.” 

The researchers note that only men participated in the study because autism is more common in men and because women’s hormonal cycles could influence test results.


Citations

“Behavioral effects of multiple-dose oxytocin treatment in autism: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial with long-term follow-up,” Sylvie Bernaerts, Bart Boets, Guy Bosmans, Jean Steyaert, and Kaat Alaerts, Molecular Autism, January 2020 (free online). Address: Kaat Alaerts, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Research Group for Neurorehabilitation, KU Leuven, Tervuursevest 101 box 1501, 3001 Leuven, Belgium, [email protected]

—and— 

“‘Love hormone’ improves attachment issues in people with autism,” news release, Tine Danschutter and Katrien Bollen, KU Leuven, January 2020