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Salivary sex hormone levels following oxytocin administration in autistic and typical women

By Tanya L Procyshyn, Michael V. Lombardo, Meng-Chuan Lai, Bonnie Auyeung, Sarah K. Crockford, Julia Deakin, Sentil Soubramanian, Akeem Sule, Simon Baron-Cohen, Richard A. I. Bethlehem

Posted 21 Jun 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/679282 (published DOI: 10.1186/s13229-020-00326-5)

Oxytocin administration, which may be of therapeutic value for social disabilities, likely influences endogenous levels of other socially-relevant hormones. However, to date, the effects of oxytocin administration on endogenous hormones have only been examined in typical males. The need to consider multi-hormone interactions is particularly warranted in oxytocin trials for autism due to evidence of irregularities in both oxytocin and sex steroid systems. Here, as part of a larger trial with a double-blind cross-over design, we assessed salivary testosterone and oestradiol levels in 16 autistic and 29 typical women before and after intranasal administration of 24IU oxytocin or placebo. Distinct patterns of change in testosterone and oestradiol across time were observed between groups, with autistic women showing increases in both hormones 90 min post-administration and typical women showing small decreases (mean %change oestradiol: +12% Autism, -10% Typical, 95%CI of difference: 5.0-39.4%, p=0.01; mean %change testosterone: +8% Autism, -14% Typical, 95%CI of difference: 7.8-35.6%, p=0.002). Under the oxytocin condition, the group difference in %change testosterone was amplified (+14.4% Autism, -15.2% Typical, p=0.018). Although baseline hormone levels did not differ between groups, greater baseline oestradiol relative to testosterone was negatively correlated with autistic-like traits (r= -0.36, p=0.019) and positively correlated (r=0.35, p=0.02) with self-reported empathy in the overall sample. These results provide further evidence that oxytocin influences endogenous testosterone, with autistic women showing increases similar to previous reports in typical men. These findings may help to identify autistic people expected to benefit most from interventions involving oxytocin.

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