March 28, 2017 1004 GMT
Among the problems people with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) struggle with, are difficulties with social behavior and communication, ISNA wrote.
That can translate to an inability to make friends, engage in routine conversations, or pick up on the social cues that are second nature to most people. Similarly, in a mouse model of ASD, the animals, like humans, show little interest in interacting or socializing with other mice.
One drug, risperidone, works in both humans and mice with ASD to treat other symptoms of the disorder—including repetitive behaviors--but no medication has been found to help socialization.
Now the researchers have treated ASD mice with a neuropeptide, molecules used by neurons to communicate with each other, called oxytocin, and have found that it restores normal social behavior.
In addition, the findings suggest that giving oxytocin as early as possible in the animal's life leads to more lasting effects in adults and adolescents. This suggests there may be critical times for treatment that are better than others.
"The oxytocin system is a key mediator of social behavior in mammals, including humans, for maternal behavior, mother-infant bonding, and social memory," said Daniel Geschwind, a UCLA professor of psychiatry. "So it seemed like a natural target for us to go after."
"The study shows that a primary deficit in oxytocin may cause the social problems in these mice, and that correcting this deficit can correct social behavior," said Geschwind. "We were surprised as well to discover a relationship between the cntnap2 protein and oxytocin--the absence of cntnap2 effected oxytocin neurons in the hypothalamus."