Aim of the project

Oxytocin is a peptide hormone, sometimes called the 'social' hormone, although its function is more complex than this. Administration of oxytocin, usually through a nasal spray, has been demonstrated to lead to improvements in emotion recognition, but this study using functional MRI to study the brain in females in greater detail following a dose of oxytocin.

Further funding awarded in 2018 will enable the measurement of hormone levels in saliva samples that were collected during the brain scanning procedure.

Regions of interest in the brain are part of the social brain affected in autism, such as the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, temporo‐parietal junction, posterior cingulate/precuneus, mid‐cingulate, insula, fusiform gyrus, superior temporal gyrus, and inferior frontal gyrus.

Importance of research

The use of oxytocin as an aid to help autistic people in social situations is not fully tested.  This study will add to the knowledge base and will inform any decision as to whether it should be made widely available to autistic adults.

The saliva analysis will also allow us to find out whether oxytocin inhalation influences the production of other hormones that link to social behaviour.

Scientists involved

  • Richard Bethlehem
  • Tanya Procyshyn

Key findings

The expected output is 3-4 peer-reviewed publications and 1-2 conference presentations by mid-2018. The saliva analysis should result in additional publications and conference presentations in 2019.