Oxytocin (OT) has become a focus in investigations of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The social deficits that characterize ASD may relate to reduced connectivity between brain sites on the mesolimbic reward pathway (nucleus accumbens; amygdala) that receive OT projections and contribute to social motivation, and cortical sites involved in social perception. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled crossover design, we show that OT administration in ASD increases activity in brain regions important for perceiving social-emotional information. Further, OT enhances connectivity between nodes of the brain's reward and socioemotional processing systems, and does so preferentially for social (versus nonsocial) stimuli. This effect is observed both while viewing coherent versus scrambled biological motion, and while listening to happy versus angry voices. Our findings suggest a mechanism by which intranasal OT may bolster social motivation - one that could, in future, be harnessed to augment behavioral treatments for ASD.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by the US-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation (Feldman, Pelphrey, Gordon, and Leckman), the Harris Family Professorship (Pelphrey), a Lee Foundation Postdoctoral Award (Gordon), the Brown-Coxe Postdoctoral Award (Jack), and NIH Grant T32 MH018268-31 Training Program in Childhood Neuropsychiatric Disorders (Jack).