Drug may boost memory in adults with autism
U. MISSOURI (US) — A drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure and anxiety may improve the working memory of people with autism, new research shows.
Previously, researchers found that the drug, propranolol, could improve the language abilities and social functioning of people with an ASD.
People with an autism spectrum disorder often have trouble communicating and interacting with others because they process language, facial expressions, and social cues differently.
Working memory represents individuals’ ability to hold and manipulate a small amount of information for a short period; it allows people to remember directions, complete puzzles, and follow conversations.
“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,” says David Beversdorf, an associate professor in the departments of radiology and neurology at the University of Missouri.
“Propranolol works by calming those nervous responses, which is why some people benefit from taking the drug to reduce anxiety.”
As reported in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, propranolol increased working memory performance in a sample of 14 young adult patients at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders but had little to no effect on a group of 13 study participants who do not have autism.
The researchers do not recommend that doctors prescribe propranolol solely to improve working memory in individuals with an ASD, but patients who already take the prescription drug might benefit.
“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,” says Shawn Christ, an associate professor in the department of psychological science.
Future research will incorporate clinical trials to assess further the relationship between cognitive and behavioral functioning and connectivity among various regions of the brain.
Researchers from the Ohio State University College of Medicine co-authored the study.
Source: University of Missouri
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