Oxytocin promotes face-recognition and social sensitivity in subjects with high-functioning autism

Promoting social or with oxytocin in high-functioning autism spectrum disorders

Elissar Andaria, Jean-René Duhamela, Tiziana Zallab, Evelyn Herbrechtb, Marion Leboyerb, and Angela Sirigua,1

PNAS February 2010

– Author Affiliations: (a) Centre de Neuroscience Cognitive, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5229, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 69675 Bron, France; and (b) Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale U 841, Department of Psychiatry, Hôpital Chenevier-Mondor, 94000 Créteil, France

Edited by Leslie G. Ungerleider, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD, and approved January 7, 2010 (received for review September 8, 2009)

Abstract: Social adaptation requires specific cognitive and emotional competences. Individuals with high-functioning autism or with Asperger syndrome cannot understand or engage in social situations despite preserved intellectual abilities. Recently, it has been suggested that oxytocin, a hormone known to promote mother-infant bonds, may be implicated in the social deficit of autism. We investigated the oral effects of oxytocin in 13 subjects with autism. In a simulated ball game where participants interacted with fictitious partners, we found that after oxytocin inhalation, patients exhibited stronger interactions with the most socially cooperative partner and reported enhanced feelings of trust and preference. Also, during free viewing of pictures of faces, oxytocin selectively increased patients’ gazing time on the socially informative region of the face, namely the eyes. Thus, under oxytocin, patients respond more strongly to others and exhibit more appropriate social or and affect, suggesting a therapeutic potential of oxytocin through its action on a core dimension of autism.


1To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: sirigu@isc.cnrs.fr.

Author contributions: E.A. and A.S. designed research; E.A., J.-R.D., T.Z., E.H., M.L., and A.S. performed research; E.A., J.-R.D., and A.S. analyzed data; and E.A., J.-R.D., and A.S. wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/0910249107/DCSupplemental.