Friday, December 09, 2005

Oxytocin: hope for autism and other social disorders?

The psychiatry I studied twenty years ago is, sadly, almost current today. We haven't really had many substantially new therapies (so much for the speed of medical advancement!). Lately, though, there are signs of a break in the drought. The endocannabinoids may one day provide us new therapies, and more recently oxytocin is looking very interesting:
NIMH: Trust-Building Hormone Short-Circuits Fear In Humans

...Scans of the hormone oxytocin's effect on human brain function reveal that it quells the brain's fear hub, the amygdala, and its brainstem relay stations in response to fearful stimuli....

... "The observed changes in the amygdala are exciting as they suggest that a long-acting analogue of oxytocin could have therapeutic value in disorders characterized by social avoidance," added Insel.

... Having just discovered decreased amygdala activity in response to social stimuli in people with a rare genetic brain disorder that rendered them overly trusting of others, Meyer-Lindenberg hypothesized that oxytocin boosts trust by suppressing the amygdala and its fear-processing networks.

To test this idea, he asked 15 healthy men to sniff oxytocin or a placebo prior to undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan, which reveals what parts of the brain that are activated by particular activities. While in the scanner, the men performed tasks known to activate the amygdala — matching angry or fearful faces and threatening scenes.

... People with autism characteristically avert their gaze from faces. A fMRI study4 reported earlier this year by NIMH grantee Richard Davidson, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, and colleagues, found over-activation of the amygdala in people with autism when they were looking at faces. Meyer-Lindenberg said future studies may test oxytocin as a treatment for such social anxiety symptoms in children with autism...
Since Oxytocin is an "old" drug with existing FDA approval, there's a modest chance recent research may produce new treatments within 10 years. This particular result is not surprising given all the recent discoveries about Oxytocin and the amygdala, but it's still interesting and useful. The possibilities for treatment in autism, "attachment disorder" (assuming that's different from autism), and anxiety and paranoid disorders are tantalizing -- all conditions for which we have no effective medications.

I'd guess we have as much as a 20% probability of a new useful therapy -- which is pretty good in this world. Of course the probability of abuse is 100%. Colognes may again become popular among men ...

5 comments:

kuchinskas said...

It's interesting you mention the cannabinoids along with oxytocin, because my personal theory (based on 30-year-old experiences) is that cannabis also stimulates the oxytocin response.

I remember hitchhiking, getting picked up by strangers who passed a joint, and feeling -- very strangely -- comfortable with them. As someone once said to me in such a situation, "Isn't it amazing that we're sitting here, and I feel like I've known you for years."

kuchinskas said...

It's interesting you mention the cannabinoids along with oxytocin, because my personal theory (based on 30-year-old experiences) is that cannabis also stimulates the oxytocin response.

I remember hitchhiking, getting picked up by strangers who passed a joint, and feeling -- very strangely -- comfortable with them. As someone once said to me in such a situation, "Isn't it amazing that we're sitting here, and I feel like I've known you for years."

kuchinskas said...

It's interesting you mention the cannabinoids along with oxytocin, because my personal theory (based on 30-year-old experiences) is that cannabis also stimulates the oxytocin response.

I remember hitchhiking, getting picked up by strangers who passed a joint, and feeling -- very strangely -- comfortable with them. As someone once said to me in such a situation, "Isn't it amazing that we're sitting here, and I feel like I've known you for years."

Anonymous said...

Kuchiskas, I dunno, pot makes me more withdrawn I think. I'm more paranoid around other people, and more content to be left alone. I am like that when I'm not high, and I think pot makes it worse. Or maybe I'm naturally low in OT and pot helps a little. Or maybe pot makes me more social, but also more paranoid. It's hard to tell, but I find the connection very interesting. I find neurotransmitters in general very interesting.

Patrique Vosges said...

After finding out the effects of serotonin on the brain in anti-depressants and similar feelings through psilocybin, I've wondered if there could be a body component similar to the relaxing effects of weed on social anxiety.

Smoking a bit when in a new group situation definitely helps to relieve some of the tension.