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An oxytocin treatment trial to improve social skills in youth with autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterised by qualitative impairments in social interaction and communication and a restricted range of activities.

About the project

There is currently no effective and generalisable method for remediating ASD’s social skill deficits. Growing evidence demonstrates the critical contribution of the neuropeptide oxytocin in the development and maintenance of ASD, due to its role in social behaviour and learning processes. While preliminary findings have been promising, a complete understanding of the effects of long-term oxytocin administration in ASD remains elusive, as participant numbers in oxytocin administration studies in ASD have been small, most studies exclusively recruit males, and reproducibility has been inconsistent. 


To address this critical knowledge gap, this project will include a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized controlled crossover trial of a six-week intranasal oxytocin treatment in 128 male and female youth with ASD aged 12-18 over three years, with social and repetitive behaviors as primary outcome measures. We predict that intranasal oxytocin treatments will improve social behavior and reduce repetitive behaviors using caregiver-reported measures.

Along with the investigation of oxytocin’s long-term effects, we will also assess the impact of a single dose of oxytocin on precise computer-based laboratory tasks that can precisely measure how participants process social cues and disengage with repetitive behaviours. In addition, an eye-tracker will be used to examine how participants process faces (as oxytocin is expected to increase gaze to the eye region) and an electrocardiogram will track predicted changes in the cardiac system that facilitate improved social behaviors.


ASD has one of the highest societal costs per individual across mental disorders, which are due to several factors including its effects on quality of life, interpersonal relationships, and education opportunities. Altogether, this project has the potential to reduce the improve the day-to-day lives of autistic individuals by improving their core symptoms via a cost-effective treatment


Kavli Trust 2021 - 2025

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Published July 8, 2021 6:36 PM - Last modified July 8, 2021 6:51 PM