FRIDAY, Oct. 15, 2021 (HealthDay News) — For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the administration of intranasal oxytocin therapy during a 24-week period does not significantly improve the score for a measure of social interaction compared with placebo, according to a study published online Oct. 14 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Linmarie Sikich, M.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues conducted a 24-week trial of intranasal oxytocin therapy among children and adolescents aged 3 to 17 years with ASD. A total of 290 children were enrolled and randomly assigned to oxytocin or placebo administered intranasally (146 and 144, respectively); 139 and 138, respectively, completed both the baseline and at least one post-baseline Aberrant Behavior Checklist modified Social Withdrawal subscale (ABC-mSW) assessment.

The researchers found that from baseline, the least-squares mean change in the ABC-mSW score was −3.7 and −3.5 in the oxytocin and placebo groups (least-squares mean difference, −0.2; 95 percent confidence interval, −1.5 to 1.0; P = 0.61). There was generally no difference between the trial groups in secondary outcomes. Similar incidence and severity of adverse events were seen between the groups.

“These results do not support the current off-label use of oxytocin in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder,” the author of an accompanying editorial writes. “Nevertheless, it may be premature to summarily reject the oxytocin signaling pathway (or efforts to increase social motivation in general) as a potential treatment target in autism spectrum disorder.”

Several authors disclosed ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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