A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Summer, 2017 | Number 3, Volume 31

Intranasal oxytocin more helpful for those with low initial levels

Intranasal administration of oxytocin—a hormone that enhances social behavior in animals—may improve social deficits in some children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a small study.

In the double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 32 children with ASD, Karen Parker and colleagues administered intranasal oxytocin spray or a placebo spray to participants twice daily for four weeks. The researchers measured the children’s blood oxytocin concentrations and assessed their behavior at the beginning and end of the study. 

The researchers found that oxytocin administration resulted in improvements in social behavior, and that children with the lowest initial levels of oxytocin benefitted the most from receiving the hormone. Oxytocin administration did not affect stereotypical behavior or anxiety. 

Parker comments, “Our results suggest that some children with autism will benefit from oxytocin treatment more than others, and that blood oxytocin levels might be a biological sign that will allow us to predict if a child will respond maximally or not.” 

As in several previous studies, children in the placebo group showed some improvement, although to a lesser degree than those receiving oxytocin. Interestingly, children who had low oxytocin levels at baseline benefited more from the placebo than those with higher oxytocin levels. In addition, their bodies’ production of oxytocin rose slightly. The researchers say, “This finding is consistent with the notion that increased endogenous oxytocin secretion (perhaps caused by enhanced social interactions during the trial) may underlie the social improvement in placebo-treated participants.”


“Intranasal oxytocin treatment for social deficits and biomarkers of response in children with autism,” Karen J. Parker, Ozge Oztan, Robin A. Libove, Raena D. Sumiyoshi, Lisa P. Jackson, Debra S. Karhson, Jacqueline E. Summers, Kyle E. Hinman, Kara S. Motonaga, Jennifer M. Phillips, Dean S. Carson, Joseph P. Garner, and Antonio Y. Hardan, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2017 (epub prior to print publication). Address: Karen J. Parker, [email protected]


“Oxytocin improves social abilities in some kids with autism,” news release, Stanford University School of Medicine, July 10, 2017. 


“Oxytocin nasal spray may boost social skills in children with autism,” Scientific American, July 11, 2017.