Oxytocin May Improve Social Function in Autism, Schizophrenia

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Oxytocin, a brain hormone colloquially known as the “love hormone,” may also have a role in improving social function in psychiatric disorders, including autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

Oxytoxin has been seen as a drug candidate for treating social deficits in autism for some time at the hormone is known for helping to create the bond between a mother and her baby. However, getting a man-made version of oxytocin into the brain has proven elusive due to the blood-brain barrier.

Meera Modi, PhD, and Larry Young, PhD, researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga., and colleagues used prairie voles to examine pair bonding. They used a drug that activates melanocortin receptors, stimulating release of oxytocin in the brains of the animals.

An injection of the drug quick induced a bond between male and female voles without mating, and the connection lasted well after the drug wore off, the researchers reported in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

They we also able to show the oxytocin cells released oxytocin directly into the brain’s reward centers responsible for forming bonds. Young believes that the bond-enducing effect from the drug can also be used to improve attention and learning from social information in people who have social disorders.

“Our latest discovery opens a new avenue of research to harness the power of the brain's oxytocin system to enhance the ability to process social information that could profoundly affect treatment of social disorders, particularly when combined with behavioral therapies used to treat children on the autism spectrum,” Young said.

 

Autism 'caused by genetics', study suggests
Oxytocin May Improve Social Function in Autism, Schizophrenia

Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have shown inducing the release of brain oxytocin may be a viable therapeutic option for enhancing social function in psychiatric disorders, including autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia. The study results are published in the advance online edition of Neuropsychopharmacology.

The oxytocin system is well-known for creating a bond between a mother and her newborn baby, and oxytocin is a lead drug candidate for treating social deficits in autism. Getting synthetic oxytocin into the brain, however, is challenging because of a blood-brain barrier. In this new study, lead researchers Meera Modi, PhD, and Larry Young, PhD, demonstrated for the first time the potential of oxytocin-releasing drugs to activate the social brain, to create bonds and, they believe, to possibly treat social deficits in psychiatric disorders.

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