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Extensive research efforts in the last decade have been expended into understanding whether intranasal oxytocin may be an effective therapeutic in treating social communication impairments in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). After much hyped early findings, subsequent clinical trials of longer-term administration have yielded more conservative and mixed evidence. However, it is still unclear at this stage whether these more disappointing findings reflect a true null effect or are mitigated by methodological differences masking true effects. In this review, we comprehensively evaluate the rationale for oxytocin as a therapeutic, evaluating evidence from randomized controlled trials, case reports, and open-label studies of oxytocin administration in individuals with ASD. The evidence to date, including reviews of preregistered trials, suggests a number of critical considerations for the design and interpretation of research in this area. These include considering the choice of ASD outcome measures, dosing and nasal spray device issues, and participant selection. Despite these limitations in the field to date, there remains significant potential for oxytocin to ameliorate aspects of the persistent and debilitating social impairments in individuals with ASD. Given the considerable media hype around new treatments for ASD, as well as the needs of eager families, there is an urgent need for researchers to prioritise considering such factors when conducting well-designed and controlled studies to further advance this field. Autism Res 2017, 10: 25–41.
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