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Review Article

Exp Neurobiol 2015; 24(4): 312-324

Published online December 30, 2015

© The Korean Society for Brain and Neural Sciences

Is Oxytocin Application for Autism Spectrum Disorder Evidence-Based?

Seung Yup Lee1, Ah Rah Lee2, Ram Hwangbo3, Juhee Han3, Minha Hong4 and Geon Ho Bahn5*

1Graduate School of Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul 02543, 2Kyung Hee University School of Medicine, Seoul 02543,
3Department of Psychiatry, Kyung Hee University Hospital, Seoul 02447,
4Department of Psychiatry, Seonam University, College of Medicine, Myongji Hospital, Goyang 10475,
5Department of Psychiatry, Kyung Hee University School of Medicine, Seoul 02447, Korea

Correspondence to: *To whom correspondence should be addressed.
TEL: 82-2-958-8556, FAX: 82-2-957-1997

Received: October 28, 2015; Revised: November 25, 2015; Accepted: November 25, 2015


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by persistent deficits within two core symptom domains: social communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors. Although numerous studies have reported psychopharmacological treatment outcomes for the core symptom domains of ASD, there are not enough studies on fundamental treatments based on the etiological pathology of ASD. Studies on candidate medications related to the pathogenesis of ASD, such as naltrexone and secretin, were conducted, but the results were inconclusive. Oxytocin has been identified as having an important role in maternal behavior and attachment, and it has been recognized as a key factor in the social developmental deficit seen in ASD. Genetic studies have also identified associations between ASD and the oxytocin pathway. As ASD has its onset in infancy, parents are willing to try even experimental or unapproved treatments in an effort to avoid missing the critical period for diagnosis and treatment, which can place their child in an irreversible state. While therapeutic application of oxytocin for ASD is in its early stages, we have concluded that oxytocin would be a promising therapeutic substance via a thorough literature review focusing on the following: the relationship between oxytocin and sociality; single nucleotide polymorphisms as a biological marker of ASD; and validity verification of oxytocin treatment in humans. We also reviewed materials related to the mechanism of oxytocin action that may support its potential application in treating ASD.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder, Oxytocin, Sociality, Gene, Behavior, Intranasal