Bonding Hormone Oxytocin Hints at Why Autistic Children Dislike Social Interaction
Written by Alyssa Clark
For years, scientists have struggled to determine why autistic kids gear more towards identifying with ideas and objects, rather than building friendships or interacting socially. However, recent studies have inculcated that maybe this reasoning is more than just a matter of preference, and that has led to the ideas for possible new treatments.
Published in the journal Nature, this study concerning social behavior of autistic kids was performed on mice, in hopes of mirroring the social behavior and finding a way to diagnose the behavioral commonality. There was an interesting connection found between the hormone oxytocin and brain systems ability to produce pleasure and motivation; for example, oxytocin levels are raging during things like orgasms, pregnancy and love stages (this is why this hormone is referred to as the “love” or “cuddle chemical”); however, this study found that some kinds of genetic variability between autistic children may challenge these notions.
Stanford University researched have describe how interfering with oxytocin’s activities can not only influence, but can inhibit social behavior. Serotonin partners with oxytocin to produce feelings of satisfaction and reward, in order to make social interaction worthwhile and comforting— or in terms for people dislike it, at least make social interaction bearable. This might be the disjunction occurring between the action of social interaction and getting enjoyment from it, which is thus limiting the ability for the autistic child to even want to try.
“People with autism-spectrum disorders may not experience the normal reward the rest of us all get from being with our friends,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Malenka, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University said in a statement, “For them, social interactions can be downright painful.”
It was proven in the mice that could not activate their oxytocin levels and serotonin levels, that they did not act like their socially-adept selves.
“It’s great study and has some interesting implications,” says Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Autism and Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorders clinic at Montefiore/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “I have seen synergistic effects and I think they go very well together,” he says, noting that they tend to work on different symptoms, “I use SSRI’s to target higher order [compulsive and repetitive] rituals, routines and anxiety and use oxytocin to help with social communication and reward.”
With the possible connection to serotonin now understood a little better, antidepressant drugs like Prozac are understood better in terms of why they can sometimes be helpful to autistic patients, allowing them to feel more empowered to connect and interact with people.
“Our results suggest that maybe combining oxytocin with a serotonin drug might be beneficial,” says Malenka. Clinical trials testing oxytocin as a treatment for autism are ongoing; one trial, which only lasted four days, failed to find an effect, but researchers believe that longer exposure is probably necessary.
About the Author
Alyssa Clark is the Editor of Healthcare Global
Skin Analytics wins NHSX award for AI skin cancer tool
An artificial intelligence-driven tool that identifies skin cancers has received an award from NHSX, the NHS England and Department of Health and Social Care's initiative to bring technology into the UK's national health system.
NHSX has granted the Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award to DERM, an AI solution that can identify 11 types of skin lesion.
Developed by Skin Analytics, DERM analyses images of skin lesions using algorithms. Within primary care, Skin Analytics will be used as an additional tool to help doctors with their decision making.
In secondary care, it enables AI telehealth hubs to support dermatologists with triage, directing patients to the right next step. This will help speed up diagnosis, and patients with benign skin lesions can be identified earlier, redirecting them away from dermatology departments that are at full capacity due to the COVID-19 backlog.
Cancer Research has called the impact of the pandemic on cancer services "devastating", with a 42% drop in the number of people starting cancer treatment after screening.
DERM is already in use at University Hospitals Birmingham and Mid and South Essex Health & Care Partnership, where it has led to a significant reduction in unnecessary referrals to hospital.
Now NHSX have granted it the Phase 4 AI in Health and Care Award, making DERM available to clinicians across the country. Overall this award makes £140 million available over four years to accelerate the use of artificial intelligence technologies which meet the aims of the NHS Long Term Plan.
Dr Lucy Thomas, Consultant Dermatologist at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, said: “Skin Analytics’ receipt of this award is great news for the NHS and dermatology departments. It will allow us to gather real-world data to demonstrate the benefits of AI on patient pathways and workforce challenges.
"Like many services, dermatology has severe backlogs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This award couldn't have come at a better time to aid recovery and give us more time with the patients most in need of our help.”