Overall, the scientific research examining the efficacy of oxytocin treatment in autism spectrum disorder has been mixed. On a previous podcast, studies in the way the oxytocin receptor was turned on and off were explained which may account for variability in treatment response. This week, two studies in Japan show that specific mutations in the oxytocin receptor product predict who will respond to oxytocin treatment and who will not. Therefore, the oxytocin story is one of the first examples of using genetic findings to push better treatment on an individual level, otherwise known as precision medicine.
This week’s podcast is inspired by a new study in PNAS thatlooked at the role of methylation of the oxytocin receptor in social behavior in people without autism. Together with studies of the brains of people with autism, it suggests that filling the brains with oxytocin may not be the best approach for treating social impairments. Instead, compounds that turn on or turn off the genes that control oxytocin may be more appropriate, and it also may help explain variability in why some people respond to oxytocin treatment, and why others do not. Also, scientific technology has a new way of studying the influence of the environment on brain development.
This week saw two new studies on the “love hormone” called oxytocin. In the first, the IV drip for oxytocin is replaced by a nasal spray. The results are mild and focused on one type of symptom, but exciting and promising nonetheless. The second study investigated how oxytocin works in the brain and shows how it interacts with a chemical called anandamide in a region activated by sex, drugs and food. This may explain why people find social reward pleasurable. It lays the groundwork for other compounds which may enhance social reward, but more studies are needed. Finally, a short recap last week’s podcast where High Risk Baby Siblings researchers are finding that the range of possible issues that kids at risk have isn’t focused just on autism symptoms.