The effect of oxytocin nasal spray on social interaction in young children with autism: a randomized clinical trial

Adam J. Guastella, Kelsie A. Boulton, Andrew J. O. Whitehouse, Yun Ju Song, Rinku Thapa, Simon G. Gregory, Izabella Pokorski, Joanna Granich, Marilena M. DeMayo, Zahava Ambarchi, John Wray, Emma E. Thomas, Ian B. Hickie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Early supports to enhance social development in children with autism are widely promoted. While oxytocin has a crucial role in mammalian social development, its potential role as a medication to enhance social development in humans remains unclear. We investigated the efficacy, tolerability, and safety of intranasal oxytocin in young children with autism using a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial, following a placebo lead-in phase. A total of 87 children (aged between 3 and 12 years) with autism received 16 International Units (IU) of oxytocin (n = 45) or placebo (n = 42) nasal spray, morning and night (32 IU per day) for twelve weeks, following a 3-week placebo lead-in phase. Overall, there was no effect of oxytocin treatment over time on the caregiver-rated Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2) (p = 0.686). However, a significant interaction with age (p 0.028) showed that for younger children, aged 3-5 years, there was some indication of a treatment effect. Younger children who received oxytocin showed improvement on caregiver-rated social responsiveness ( SRS-2). There was no other evidence of benefit in the sample as a whole, or in the younger age group, on the clinician-rated Clinical Global Improvement Scale (CGI-S), or any secondary measure. Importantly, placebo effects in the lead-in phase were evident and there was support for washout of the placebo response in the randomised phase. Oxytocin was well tolerated, with more adverse side effects reported in the placebo group. This study suggests the need for further clinical trials to test the benefits of oxytocin treatment in younger populations with autism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)834-842
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number2
Early online date27 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


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