Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which impairs communication and social interaction skills. The CDC reports
that the disorder is on the rise, showing a 30% increase in the number of cases. While the debate has raged over whether or not the increase is due to actual new cases or better diagnostics, and research has focused on causes more than treatments, there might be new information from a study out of the University of Missouri.
conducted there looked at the blood pressure drug propranolol. David Beversdorf, MD, associate professor in the departments of radiology, neurology and psychological sciences at MU and the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders was the senior author of the study. In a press release
from MU he said, “Propranolol was first reported to improve the language and sociability skills of individuals with autism in 1987, but it was not a randomized, controlled trial, and there has been little follow-up research on this drug in relation to autism. While its intended use is to treat high blood pressure, propranolol has been used off-label to treat performance anxiety for several years. However, this is the first study to show that a single dose of propranolol can improve the conversational reciprocity skills of individuals with autism.”
The study participants were 20 individuals with autism who were identified as patients at the MU Thompson Center. One group was given a 40 mg dose of the drug per day and the control group was given a placebo.
The study was double blind so patients did not know which pill they had received and neither did the researchers. About an hour after administration, the researchers had a structured conversation with the participants, each time keeping the topic and intellectual level the same. The MU scientists scored the performance of each participant on six social skills that were needed to maintain a two way conversation: staying on topic, sharing information, reciprocity or shared conversation, transitions or interruptions, nonverbal communication and maintaining eye contact. When the scores were tallied
, the group that had received the medication did significantly better than those who had only received the placebo ()
Dr. Beversdorf stressed that this study was small and there needs to be more research on the effects after more than one dose, as well clinical trials to determine which patients might benefit the most of the medication. The study, “Effects of Propranolol on Conversational Reciprocity in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot, Double-blind, Single-dose Psychopharmacological Challenge Study,” was published in the journal Psychopharmacology. Check out the video below to learn more about autism spectrum disorders and how those on the spectrum manage their daily lives communicating with others and holding conversations.