Autism therapy promise

Researchers have found a clue for predicting whether a child with autism will benefit from treatment with oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” which is known to improve social behavior for some autistic children.

A Stanford study published online July 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that autistic children with low levels of oxytocin showed more improvement from oxytocin treatment — intranasal spray twice a day — than the other children studied.

Blood oxytocin levels might be a biological sign predicting who will best respond to the therapy, says Karen Parker, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and lead author of the study of 32 children with autism.

“Hopefully, this is a first step to identifying the characteristics of people with autism who respond to specific treatments,” says Antonio Hardan, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the study’s senior author.

A large trial of oxytocin for children with autism is underway at several institutions across the United States, and Parker and Harden are curious about whether it will replicate their findings.