The dual neural effects of oxytocin in autistic youth: results from a randomized trial

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Recent discoveries have highlighted the effects of oxytocin (OT) on social behavior and perception among autistic individuals. However, a gap persists in the literature regarding the potential effects of OT and the neural temporal dynamics due to OT administration. We explored the effect of OT on autistic individuals using magnetoencephalography (MEG), focusing on M100, M170, and M250, social perception-related components that tend to show atypical patterns in autistic individuals. Twenty-five autistic adolescents participated in this randomized, double-blind MEG study. Autistic individuals arrived at the lab twice and received an acute dose of intranasal OT or placebo in each session. During the scans, participants were asked to identify pictures of social and non-social stimuli. Additionally, 23 typically developing (TD) adolescents performed the same task in the MEG as a benchmark that allowed us to better characterize neural regions of interest and behavioral results for this age group in this task. A source-model beamformer analysis revealed that OT enhanced neural activity for social stimuli in frontal regions during M170. Additionally, in each of the preselected time windows, OT increased activation in the left hemisphere, regardless of the content of the presented stimuli. We suggest that OT increased the processing of social stimuli through two separate mechanisms. First, OT increased neural activity in a nonspecific manner, allowing increased allocation of attention toward the stimuli. Second, OT enhanced M170 activity in frontal regions only in response to social stimuli. These results reveal the temporal dynamics of the effects of OT on the early stages of social and non-social perception in autistic adolescents. Trial registration: This study was a part of a project registered as clinical trial October 27th, 2021. Identifier: NCT05096676.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16304
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Abraham Goldstein is funded by the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF grant #726/15). Ilanit Gordon is funded by the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF grants #1726/15; #2096/15).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


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