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Oxytocin, Opioids & Sociability

May 5, 2017

A drug used to treat drug addiction offers clues into the brain chemistry behind autism.



Social brain chemistry. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Oxytocin is a brain chemical that encourages empathy and social bonding — one reason it’s been studied as a treatment for autism. This according to Yale neuroscientist Olga Dal Monte.

OLGA DALMONTE (Yale University):

Oxytocin has been the main focus for treating social deficit, especially in autism.


But results have been mixed, so she and her colleagues tried combining oxytocin with another drug, Naloxone, generally used to treat opioid addiction. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they report that pairs of macaque monkeys became much more sociable when given both drugs, compared to just one, or none. Dal Monte says that the brain’s opioid and oxytocin systems work in tandem, which is why it takes treating both of them to have a consistent effect. The findings could help researchers might produce more effective interventions. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon