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Effect of oxytocin receptor inhibitor (Atosiban) during the perinatal period and prevalence of autism spectrum disorders


Among environmental factors that may confer risk for autism, perinatal factors are prominent. Based on multiple lines of research, it has been hypothesized that activity of the hormone oxytocin – a 'social' hormone that mediates affiliative behaviors in many species including humans – may be a perinatal factor that impacts the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). An increasing number of women in the US and abroad receive Pitocin (a synthetic form of oxytocin) during childbirth to induce or augment labor. In some areas such as Israel and Europe, women may receive an oxytocin receptor inhibitor (Atosiban) to delay preterm labor. This study will take an epidemiological approach to determining the roles of Pitocin and Atosiban in ASD. Dr. Ebstein and colleagues will recruit mother and child pairs from four categories: mothers having received Atosiban during pregnancy, mothers having received Nifedipine, a drug used to prevent preterm labor that does not affect oxytocin signaling, mothers that received Pitocin during labor, and a matched control group of mothers who received no drugs and delivered at term. Children of these mothers will be screened for neurodevelopmental delays, and those testing positive will undergo further evaluations for ASD. If the use of drugs affecting oxytocin activity during the perinatal period is found to be associated with neurodevelopmental problems, it will have profound implications for a widely used obstetrical practice that may inadvertently confer additional risk for ASD and related disorders.