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Plasma Oxytocin in Children with

Autism and it’s Correlations with

Behavioral Parameters in Children
and Parents
By: Veronika Marcincakova Husarova, Silvia Lakatosova, Anna
Pivovarciova, Katarina Babinska, Jan Bakos, Jaroslava Durdiakova,
Aneta Kubranska, Igor Ondrejka, and Daniela Ostatnikova
Why this article?

Genetic & Physiological Importance Overall Importance

● Most ASD cases display evidence for some sort of ● The study I am presenting involves Oxytocin.
genetic proponent being apart of the complicated ● Our genome, hormones, neurons, neurotransmitters,
diagnostic puzzle. etc. all interwork with each other speaking in a
● This is seen commonly with the monozygotic twin complicated language, but they tell a story.
studies. * ● It is often difficult to understand if A causes B or vice
● Most literature that studies ASD strictly focuses versa but research allows us to understand each
on the individual(s) with ASD. ** puzzle piece more thoroughly.
● It is important these studies exist, however it is ● Medical research does not mean they will entirely
also important for the field to be open minded eliminate autism from our population, but it could
and not fixate on a certain allow professionals in the field to take more efficient
intervention/perspective. approaches after understanding the medical model
better. ***

* page 104-106 of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Characteristics, Causes, and Practical Issues.

** What should autism research focus upon? Community views and priorities from the United Kingdom

*** page 90 of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Characteristics, Causes, and Practical Issues.
What is Oxytocin?
● Oxytocin is a hormonal neuromodulator with a half life The Love Hormone
of 3-5 minutes. A neuromodulator stimulates or ● There are multiple reasons as to why
depresses the chemical output from neurons.* Think of
oxytocin has received this name.
them like specialized professionals of the body, they all
● It is released in the body
have specific duties to modulate neural activity for their
○ During sex
designed part of the neuron.
● Oxytocin is created in the hypothalamus by binding ○ During childbirth
supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei and then ○ During social/physical interaction
dispatched into the body via pituitary gland which is ● Oxytocin has also been correlated to
often called the “hormonal control center” emotional regulation**
● Oxytocin has recently been nicknamed the “love ● Studies of oxytocin have also linked facial
hormone” for various reasons. recognition and recognizing emotions via
pictures of faces.***
* page 122 of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Characteristics, Causes, and Practical Issues. ● Studies lack research of overall effects of
** low oxytocin levels and high levels oxytocin.
*** Oxytocin and Facial Emotion Recognition.

Let’s begin the

article slides
Background & Introduction

● Oxytocin has been hypothesized to play a role in

● Husarova et al. decided to examine the plasma
levels of oxytocin in children with ASD and their
parents in comparison to children without.
● The researchers in the study believe autism has a
hereditary factor due to the research with
monozygotic twins.
● Referencing other studies, researchers state that
nasal sprays of oxytocin enhanced facial &
emotional recognition as well as increased eye
contact compared to placebo sprays.
Figure 1

Figure 1 shows a visual display for the molecular structure of oxytocin.


Purpose of the study

To test the hypothesis that oxytocin deficiency plays a role in autistic traits and tendencies.

Also to examine the if there is a correlation of oxytocin levels between children with ASD and their parents
questionnaire scores. .
Participants (Children)
● 19 boys with the diagnosis of ASD ● Children with ASD were recruited through
and 44 typically developing boys in Bratislava, Slovakia Autism Centre.
between the ages of 2 and 9. ● Boys with ASD met the diagnosis via ADI
● The mean age for the boys with by a child psychologist and psychiatrist.
● Only children with an IQ less than 70 were
ASD were 56.7 months and the
included into the study.
typically developing boys were ● The typical developing boys all took blood
58.9 months. samples to rule out any diagnosis, they
were also examined, and placed in typical
functioning classrooms.
Participants (Adults)
● 14 mothers and 13 fathers of the ● Parents filled out questionnaires prior
children with ASD participated in via email.
this study. ● Some of the questions pertaining to the
● The mean of the mothers’ age was email asked for level of education, prior
diagnosis, and were questionnaires
34 years and the mean of the
relating to the study.
fathers’ age was about 38. ● Informed consent was collected from
● All parents had no diagnosis or every individual that participated in the
history of psychiatric treatment study.
(besides one with a depression

Plasma Physiological
● Blood controls were taken by the ● All children with ASD were tested using The
pediatrician Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) and
evaluated by child psychologist and
● The blood sample of all children were psychiatrist. Autism Diagnostic interview
obtained during the same interval from (ADI) was also administered as well.
8:00-9:00 am ● Parents were asked to complete Autism
● All OT measurements were performed Spectrum Quotient, Systemizing Quotient,
and Empathy Quotient via email.
in the laboratory of the Institute of
Physiology within standard guidelines
Measurements cont.
● CARS includes 15 items utilizing a 7 point scale in 4 ● For research and time purposes the ADI was
degrees: non-autistic, mild autistic, middle autistic, and shortened from 35 items on a 3 to 4 point scale to a
severe autistic. 13 item questionairee.
● The range of scores on CARS go from 15-60. Scores of 30 or ● This included social interaction, communication,
higher are often suggested to be in the ASD range. speech and language, repetitive behaviors.
● Social interaction included measurements such as
eye contact, peer play, imitation.
● Communication included object pointing, gesturing,
● Language area included small talk and reciprocal
● General speech measured echolalia and
stereotyped speech behaviors.
● The maximum total score is 101 points.

Figure 2
Alternate Measurements
● AQ is a self administered questionnaire
● SQ and EQ are based on Baron-Cohen’s
designed to detect autistic traits in adults
empathizing systemizing theory and the
with normal intelligence.
extreme male brain theory.
● Scores of 26-50 indicate ASD tendencies. ● Same self reporting questionnaire type as
the AQ.
● The maximum score is an 80
● All Questionnaires were downloaded from and translated
into Slovak

Figure 3
Results Children

Plasma Scores
● Researchers found a high statistical significant ● A significant positive correlation of plasma
difference of Oxytocin between groups. oxytocin and ADI reciprocal and
● One child was excluded for extreme OT values with communication subscales was discovered.
a mean of over two standard deviations. ● However, there was no significant
correlation of oxytocin and
speech/language or restrictive behavior
● No differences between CARS or ADI total
score was observed.

Table 1
Results Adults

Plasma/ Scores No correlation Plasma/Scores Correlation

● No significant correlation of between father’s ● Significant Positive correlations were found
plasma levels and AQ sub scores. for plasma oxytocin levels in children and
● There was no significant correlation between fathers’ AQ and SQ overall scores.
plasma and fathers EQ overall score. ● Mother’s overall AQ score had a positive
● No correlation of any sub scales of AQ and oxytocin trend but not significant.
level maternally.
● There was no correlation between plasma and
mothers’ overall SQ and EQ score

Table 2
● The original hypothesis was confirmed,
● It seems that high/low levels of oxycontin
findings supported an altered oxytocin
could correlate with different ASD traits
system in ASD children.
and behaviors. This would be it’s not as
● In addition, the findings supported a
significant positive correlation of plasma and
black and white as being low levels
ADI reciprocal interaction and causing all traits or high levels causing all
communication subscale which does not traits.
associate low levels of oxytocin with autistic ● To summarize, oxytocin plays a role in
symptoms social interaction, it is just unclear at what
● This means they found higher oxytocin levels level.
were connected with more severe autism ● Possible hypothesis include issues with
symptoms in the lens of interaction and the oxytocin receptor having
communication. abnormalities.
Discussion cont.
● Positive correlation of plasma levels in children
● Testosterone is also hypothesized to play
with ASD and fathers’ SQ and AQ scores yielded a
positive trend for social skill, attention to detail, a negative factor in the expression of
and communication areas. oxytocin and oxytocin receptors.*
● This is believed to be the first evidence of
parental behavioral measures with oxytocin and
● The relationship also could also build evidence to
the extreme male brain theory due to oxytocin
and testosterone interactions. (Since there was a
correlation between father and son and males
are predominantly diagnosed with autism)
● The relationship also gives claim to the 2d:4d

* Johnson AE, Coirini H, McEwen BS, Insel TR. Testosterone modulates oxytocin binding in the Figure 4
hypothalamus of castrated male rats.
Discussion cont.
● This positive correlation of oxytocin and AQ and SQ was found only in fathers, not the
● The mothers AQ subscale was also not observed as it was in the fathers.
● The article included a study in its reference explaining this by a hypothesize where
the maternal and paternal genetics battle for expressed genes.
Limitations and Future Research

Limitations Future research

● There are many different sub-groups of ASD and not In addition to keeping in mind the limitations listed
all of them have been proven to have the same low for future research, I believe future research could
oxytocin levels as each other. be interesting in the following.
● There was only boys in the study, there was no girls ● Testing the oxytocin levels of the parents.
because of the lower population of girls diagnosed
with ASD in the field. ● Having child and parent behavior observed
● The study did not review the behavior questionnaires from a professional in a home setting
within the healthy children parents. instead of a self answered questionnaire.
● The way they extracted the plasma in the children
could yield different results depending on type of
Boucher, J. (2017). Autism spectrum disorder: Characteristics, causes and practical issues. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Ellenbogen, M. A. (2017). Oxytocin and Facial Emotion Recognition. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences.

Husarova, V. M., Lakatosova, S., Pivovarciova, A., Babinska, K., Bakos, J., Durdiakova, J., . . . Ostatnikova, D. (2016). Plasma
Oxytocin in Children with Autism and Its Correlations with Behavioral Parameters in Children and Parents. Psychiatry
Investigation,13(2), 174. doi:10.4306/pi.2016.13.2.174

Johnson, A. E., Coirini, H., Mcewen, B. S., & Insel, T. R. (1989). Testosterone Modulates Oxytocin Binding in the Hypothalamus
of Castrated Male Rats. Neuroendocrinology,50(2), 199-203. doi:10.1159/000125222

Oxytocin | Hormone Health. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from

Pellicano, E., Dinsmore, A., & Charman, T. (2014). What should autism research focus upon? Community views and priorities from
the United Kingdom. Autism,18(7), 756-770. doi:10.1177/1362361314529627

Thank you.