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Intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in the treatment of adults with autism spectrum disorders: a randomized controlled trial

Evdokia Anagnostou12*, Latha Soorya15, William Chaplin3, Jennifer Bartz1, Danielle Halpern1, Stacey Wasserman1, A Ting Wang1, Lauren Pepa1, Nadia Tanel2, Azadeh Kushki2 and Eric Hollander4

Author Affiliations

1 Mount Sinai School of Medicine, One Gustave L. Levy Place, New York, NY 10029-6574, USA

2 Bloorview Research Institute, University of Toronto, 150 Kilgour Road, Toronto, ON M4G 1R8, Canada

3 St John’s University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens, NY 11439, Jamaica

4 Child Psychiatry Annex, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, 111 E. 210th Street, Bronx, NY 10467-2490, USA

5 Department of psychiatry, Rush University, 2150 w Harrison st, Chicago, IL, USA

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Molecular Autism 2012, 3:16  doi:10.1186/2040-2392-3-16

Published: 5 December 2012



There are no effective medications for the treatment of social cognition/function deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and adult intervention literature in this area is sparse. Emerging data from animal models and genetic association studies as well as early, single-dose intervention studies suggest that the oxytocin system may be a potential therapeutic target for social cognition/function deficits in ASD. The primary aim of this study was to examine the safety/therapeutic effects of intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in adults with ASD, with respect to the two core symptom domains of social cognition/functioning and repetitive behaviors.


This was a pilot, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel design trial of intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in 19 adults with ASD (16 males; 33.20 ± 13.29 years). Subjects were randomized to 24 IU intranasal oxytocin or placebo in the morning and afternoon for 6 weeks. Measures of social function/cognition (the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy) and repetitive behaviors (Repetitive Behavior Scale Revised) were administered. Secondary measures included the Social Responsiveness Scale, Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes Test and the Yale Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale – compulsion subscale and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire – emotional/social subscales). Full-information maximum-likelihood parameter estimates were obtained and tested using mixed-effects regression analyses.


Although no significant changes were detected in the primary outcome measures after correcting for baseline differences, results suggested improvements after 6 weeks in measures of social cognition (Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes Test, p = 0.002, d = 1.2), and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire – emotion, p = 0.031, d = 0.84), both secondary measures. Oxytocin was well tolerated and no serious adverse effects were reported.


This pilot study suggests that there is therapeutic potential to daily administration of intranasal oxytocin in adults with ASD and that larger and longer studies are warranted.

Trial registration


Autism; Adults; Oxytocin; Clinical trial; Social cognition