There is no known cure for autism, and there are no medications approved for treating the social aspects of the condition, such as difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues in face-to-face conversations, or maintaining eye contact.
The only medications approved for treating autism are antipsychotics, which don’t target the social deficits.
But efforts are underway to explore whether certain molecules used by neurons in the brain to communicate with one another – called neuropeptides – might have a moderating effect on some of the behavioral traits that characterize autism.
I recently talked with Dean Carson, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, who told me that one neuropeptide, oxytocin, is currently being studied as a treatment for autism in a number of studies around the world. Some early stage, single dose trials showed oxytocin was effective in moderating the social deficits of people with autism, but so far subsequent studies haven’t produced a consensus.
Carson also told me about a study that he’s involved with looking at another neuropeptide, vasopressin, which is closely related to oxytocin. Carson thinks vasopressin has some promise, as it’s been shown to enhance social functioning in laboratory mice with a genetically induced form of autism. It’s already approved for use in humans by the FDA and has been shown to improve social cognition and memory in people who do not have autism.
Researchers are currently seeking volunteers – children ages 6 to 12 years old – for this trial. If you’re located near Stanford and interested in learning more, this link provides details. I also explain more in a press release.
Previously: Greater hyperconnectivity in the autistic brain correlates to greater social deficits, More Stanford findings on the autistic brain, Director of Stanford Autism Center responds to your questions on research and treatment and New autism treatment shows promising results in pilot study