February 12, 2016

MU study shows drug could improve cognitive skills of people with autism (AUDIO)

A drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure and anxiety, could also improve cognitive abilities for people with autism. Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that the drug, propranolol, could also help improve working memory in people with autism; such as allowing them to remember directions, complete puzzles, and follow conversations.

People diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have trouble communicating and interacting with others because of how they process language, facial expressions, and social cues differently than someone who doesn’t have autism.

Associate Professor and neuropsychologist Shawn Christ says the drug affects a neurotransmitter in the brain called norepinephrine. “It’s important not only in the autonomic nervous system related to things like anxiety, but it also plays a critical role in cognition,” Christ says.

He says it’s also helped patients improve performance on a verbal problem solving task. “While it does play a role in anxiety controlling the autonomic nervous system, but it also plays a role in cognitive abilities and how our brain processes things,” Christ says.

Christ adds that more research in the future will incorporate more trials to further assess the relationship between cognitive and behavioral functioning in various regions of the brain in autistic patients.

AUDIO: Mary Farucci reports. (1:04)