Scientists have found that some symptoms of autism can be alleviated by a nasal spray containing oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone.
People with autism who inhaled the spray altered their behaviour temporarily, becoming more sociable and trusting.
Autism and Asperger’s, a related syndrome, impede the ability to communicate or form relationships. Many people with the conditions find it difficult even to meet someone else’s eye.
The research, which has been peer-reviewed, was carried out on 13 patients with high-functioning autism, defined as those of normal or above-normal intelligence.After inhaling the hormone, the patients rapidly became more open.
“Under oxytocin, patients with high-functioning autism respond more strongly to others and exhibit more appropriate social behaviour,” wrote Elissar Andari, of the Institut des Sciences Cognitives, a French government centre for neuroscience research, in a summary of a recent conference presentation.
Such a therapy would be a key breakthrough, if proven. About 500,000 Britons have autism or Asperger’s syndrome, with many suffering exclusion from school and long-term unemployment because of the associated behavioural problems.
In a summary of her presentation to the Mediterranean Conference of Neuroscience, held in Egypt, Andari said the results “suggested a therapeutic potential of oxytocin through its action on a core dimension of autism”.
The researchers point out that the effects of the nasal spray are transient and the findings do not mean that a therapy is imminent.
Any proposed medication would have to undergo extensive testing, which could take years.
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