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Love Hormone May Enhance Autistic Brains

Update Date: Dec 02, 2013 03:10 PM EST

A spritz of the "love hormone" improves brain function in children with autism, according to a new study.

Researchers found that a single dose of oxytocin via nasal spray an enhance brain activity for processing social information in children with autism spectrum disorders.

"This is the first study to evaluate the impact of oxytocin on brain function in children with autism spectrum disorders," first author Ilanit Gordon, a Yale Child Study Center postdoctoral fellow, said in a news release.

Gordon and his team conducted a double-blind, placebo controlled study of 17 children between the ages of eight and 16.5 with autism spectrum disorders.

Participants were randomly selected to received wither oxytocin spray or a placebo nasal spray during a task involving social judgments.

"We found that brain centers associated with reward and emotion recognition responded more during social tasks when children received oxytocin instead of the placebo," said Gordon. "Oxytocin temporarily normalized brain regions responsible for the social deficits seen in children with autism."

The findings revealed that oxytocin helped with social attunement, which is a process that triggers brain regions involved in social behavior and social cognition activate more for social stimuli (such as faces) and activate less for non-social stimuli (such as cars).

"Our results are particularly important considering the urgent need for treatments to target social dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders," Gordon concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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