Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oxytocin: Implications for Autism and Music

Someone asked me recently about the use of Oxytocin to help people with autism improve their social skills. I had not heard much about using this drug, so I did some investigating. I think some of the recent "buzz" about using Oxytocin may be from some new research that was published about genes in people with autism. Dr. Simon Gregory at Duke University used a controlled study to establish that in 20 cases of autism there was a problem with the OXTR gene that processes Oxytocin in the brain. Another study by L. A. Green et al also found problems with Oxytocin processing in children with autism. This is important because previous research has shown some indications that oxytocin can decrease obsessive compulsive behaviors, repetitive behaviors and increase the desire for social attachment. One study by Eric Hollander in 2003 compared giving Oxytocin or a placebo to individuals with autism and found that there was a significant decrease in the number of repetitive behaviors for the group receiving Oxytocin infusions.

The research seems to be showing that there is some relationship between autism and the genes that process Oxytocin. So far, the number of research studies are few. The studies also have small sample populations and have not been replicated. I think we are just at the beginning of understanding how Oxytocin might play a part in autism. Some people are theorizing that giving Oxytocin to people with autism might be helpful, but the research has only been able to demonstrate short-lived improvements from extra Oxytocin. These studies also used injected Oxytocin and giving the drug through nasal mist did not seem to have the same effect. Since the research is not clear about the possible problems with the brain processing Oxytocin, perhaps giving extra Oxytocin is not recommended since it may have negative side effects in other areas. Oxytocin, after all, is a powerful drug (Pitocin) sometimes used during labor to increase the strength of contractions.

So if injecting Oxytocin may create a temporary positive effect in some people with autism who may have a deficient processing mechanism, perhaps we can find a better way to supply Oxytocin or increase its uptake. Please bring in Dr. Hill of Arizona State University....

Dr. Hill started a research project last year to test Oxytocin levels in band students before and after playing in ensembles. These students do not have autism, but if there is evidence that music may increase natural Oxytocin levels, this may be an interesting basis for more research into why music has been so effective in helping many people with autism.

My initial thought is that it may explain why after about 5-10 minutes of a familiar music therapy session, children with autism usually settle down and increase their focus of attention. I have also noticed that many children with autism have a very positive association with music and the music therapist. Would music induced increases in Oxytocin account for the increased verbalization and social interactions that often occur during music therapy? I have not seen published results of Dr. Hill's study, but I anxiously await his findings.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe by email or obtain RSS feed by clicking here:

Amazon orders originating with clicks on any Amazon product link on the site help to benefit Music Makes Sense and its ongoing contribution to the world of music and music therapy. Thank You so much!
Related Posts with Thumbnails