Intranasal oxytocin in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders : A multilevel meta-analysis

Yi HUANG, Xin HUANG, Richard P. EBSTEIN, Rongjun YU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Intranasal oxytocin has been shown to promote social functioning and has recently been applied as a treatment for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The current meta-analysis aims to assess the crucial question of oxytocin's efficacy in the treatment of ASD. We performed a systematic literature search, including randomized, single- or double-blind/open-label and placebo-controlled clinical trials as well as single-arm, non-randomized and uncontrolled studies investigating exogenous oxytocin effect on ASD. A total of 28 studies (N = 726 ASD patients) met our predefined inclusion criteria. We used a multilevel meta-analytic model and found that oxytocin had beneficial effects on social functioning, but did not find strong evidence for symptoms improvement in the non-social domain. Our findings suggest that oxytocin administration can be regarded as an effective treatment for some core aspects of ASD, especially in the domain of social functioning, highlighting the promise of using oxytocin as a new-generation therapeutic to address core social impairments in ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-27
Number of pages10
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Early online date2 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

This work is supported by the Lam Woo Research Fund – Individual Grant, 185605 , Lingnan University, Hong Kong, China .


  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Non-social domain improvement
  • Oxytocin
  • Social functioning


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