Nasal spray normalizes eye gaze in children with autism

Date: Friday, July 21, 2017

UI Researcher says Oxytocin nasal spray normalizes eye gaze patterns in children with Autism

The so-called "love" hormone, oxytocin, has been shown to enhance social behavior in children with autism. Now, a new study has demonstrated that it may also influence other behavior patterns seen in autism, such as visual fixations and eye gaze preferences.

The study was published this week in the journal Development and Psychopathology, with lead authors from the University of Iowa, the Center for Disabilities and Development, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The researchers examined the effect of oxytocin, a chemical in the brain involved in social bonding, in children with autism. Using an automated eye tracking device, they were able to follow viewing preferences in 16 children with autism and a matched comparison group. Lead author Lane Strathearn, MD, PhD, Director of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the UI, explains that "children with autism preferred viewing more highly structured and organized real-life images, compared to other children."

"However," he says, "after receiving a nasal spray of oxytocin, these children behaved more like their typically developing peers."

Unexpectedly, the team also found the opposite result in typically developing children; after receiving the oxytocin spray they behaved more like children with autism in their gaze preferences.

Overall, this study provides additional evidence for the potential benefits of oxytocin in treating some of the non-social symptoms of autism.

The study was supported by a Junior Faculty Seed Funding Program at Baylor College of Medicine and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The lead authors were Lane Strathearn from the University of Iowa and Sohye Kim from Baylor College of Medicine. Read the full paper here.