The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in 59 U.S. children has been diagnosed with a form of autism. The signs begin in early childhood and can range in the type of affects they will have.
Mizzou researchers used a drug known as a beta blocker in 13 individuals with autism and 13 without. They measured whether the low-cost drug could have cognitive and social benefits for those living with autism. Through the study, the researchers found Propranolol can positively impact language and social interaction.
“Propranolol is used for test anxiety and performance anxiety, so we suspected it might help with social anxiety,” says supervising investigator David Beversdorf, MD, professor of radiology, neurology and psychology at the MU School of Medicine and the Thompson Center. “I’d been studying its cognitive advantages and found some interesting benefits in language areas that prove difficult for those with autism. That’s why we started this imaging study to understand its effects, and we’re finding benefits involving both language and social interaction in single-dose pilot studies.”
Beversdorf’s team discovered in the autism group that propranolol improved performance compared to placebo on the word generation test, and the MRI results revealed the drug altered regions of the brain associated with word processing and improved specific task information processing.
“One of the interesting things we found in the autism group was the excessive connectivity in the frontal parietal control network—which affects how your brain allocates resources to other regions—became more similar to the levels of the non-autism group once propranolol was introduced,” Beversdorf said. “It’s an indicator as to why this drug may prove helpful.”
The team has received a Department of Defense grant to examine the benefits of the drug on a larger and younger population of autism patients.
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