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Oxytocin Treatment, Circuitry, and Autism: A Critical Review of the Literature Placing Oxytocin Into the Autism Context

Adam J Guastella, Ian B Hickie
Biological Psychiatry 2016 February 1, 79 (3): 234-42
Observed impairment in reciprocal social interaction is a diagnostic hallmark of autism spectrum disorders. There is no effective medical treatment for these problems. Psychological treatments remain costly, time intensive, and developmentally sensitive for efficacy. In this review, we explore the potential of oxytocin-based therapies for social impairments in autism. Evidence shows that acute oxytocin administration improves numerous markers critical to the social circuitry underlying social deficits in autism. Oxytocin may optimize these circuits and enhance reward, motivation, and learning to improve therapeutic outcomes. Despite this, the current evidence of therapeutic benefit from extended oxytocin treatment remains very limited. We highlight complexity in crossing from the laboratory to the autism clinical setting in evaluation of this therapeutic. We discuss a clinical trial approach that provides optimal opportunity for therapeutic response by using personalized methods that better target specific circuitry to define who will obtain benefit, at what stage of development, and the optimal delivery approach for circuitry manipulation. For the autism field, the therapeutic challenges will be resolved by a range of treatment strategies, including greater focus on specific interventions, such as oxytocin, that have a strong basis in the fundamental neurobiology of social behavior. More sophisticated and targeted clinical trials utilizing such approaches are now required, placing oxytocin into the autism context.


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