Oxytocin (OT) and arginine-vasopressin (AVP) are 2 peptides that are produced in the brain and released via the pituitary gland to the peripheral blood, where they have diverse physiological functions. In the last 2 decades it has become clear that these peptides also play a central role in the modulation of mammalian social behavior by their actions within the brain. Several lines of evidence suggest their involvement in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is known to be associated with impaired social cognition and behavior. Recent clinical trials using OT administration to autistic patients have reported promising results. Here, we aim to describe the main data that suggest a connection between these peptides and ASD. Following a short illustration of several major topics in ASD biology we will (a) briefly describe the oxytocinergic and vasopressinergic systems in the brain, (b) discuss a few compelling cases manifesting the involvement of OT and AVP in mammalian social behavior, (c) describe data supporting the role of these peptides in human social cognition and behavior, and (d) discuss the possibility of the involvement of OT and AVP in ASD etiology, as well as the prospect of using these peptides as a treatment for ASD patients.
- Social behavior
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience