Patients suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often feel problem when they interact and communicate with people due to difference in processing of social cues, language and facial expressions. It has already been discovered that propranolol, a drug commonly used for the treatment and management of blood pressure, panic disorders and anxiety, is effective against language problems and social cues. Now researchers have found that propranolol is also useful in improving memory power of patients with autism.
“Seeing a tiger might signal a fight or flight response. Nowadays, a stressor such as taking an exam could generate the same response, which is not helpful,” said Beversdorf, an associate professor in the Departments of Radiology and Neurology in the MU School of Medicine. “Propranolol works by calming those nervous responses, which is why some people benefit from taking the drug to reduce anxiety.”
This study was conducted on two groups. There was a significant improvement in the group having patients with autism after taking propranolol in comparison to the second group in which no patient of autism was present.
“People with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who are already being prescribed propranolol for a different reason, such as anxiety, might also see an improvement in working memory,” said Christ, an associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science.
The study, “Noradrenergic Moderation of Working Memory Impairments in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” was published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. Kimberly Bodner, a psychological sciences doctoral student at MU, and Sanjida Saklayen from the Ohio State University College of Medicine co-authored the study.
Researchers concluded at the end that it does not mean that physician should start prescribing propranolol to treat working memory of patients suffering from autism, however patients already taking prescription drug might get benefit.
The abstract of this article is as following.
In addition to having difficulties with social communications, individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often also experience impairment in higher-order, executive skills. The present study examined the effects of pharmacological modulation of the norepinephrine system on the severity of such impairments. A sample of 14 high-functioning adults with ASD and a demographically-matched comparison group of 13 typically developing individuals participated. An AX continuous performance test (AX-CPT) was used to evaluate working memory and inhibitory control. AX-CPT performance was assessed following administration of a single dose of propranolol (a beta adrenergic antagonist) and following placebo (sugar pill) administration. Individuals with ASD performed more poorly than non-ASD individuals in the working memory condition (BX trials). Importantly, administration of propranolol attenuated this impairment, with the ASD group performing significantly better in the propranolol condition than the placebo condition. Working memory performance of the non-ASD group was unaffected by propranolol/placebo administration. No group or medication effects were observed for the inhibition condition (AY trials). The present findings suggest that norepinephrine may play a role in some, but not necessarily all, cognitive impairments associated with ASD. Additional research is needed to fully understand whether this role is primarily causal or compensatory in nature.
Read full article here.
Reference: Bodner KE, Beversdorf DQ, Saklayen SS, Christ SE. Noradrenergic moderation of working memory impairments in adults with autism spectrum disorder. J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2012 May;18(3):556-64. doi: 10.1017/S1355617712000070.
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