Oxytocin and vasopressin in the amygdala: key factors underlying the sex-differential liability for autism spectrum disorders?
Gun, Luna van der
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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a range of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction, are particularly prevalent in boys, a phenomenon that has given rise to the notion of a sex-differential liability for ASD. A better understanding of what mechanism is at heart of the sex-differential liability for ASD appears crucial for the understanding of ASD etiology and may aid the development of novel treatment approaches. Here, literature is summarized that suggests the amygdala plays a central role in the mechanism underlying the sex-differential liability for ASD. Hypothalamic neuropeptides oxytocin (OXT) and vasopressin (VP) affect amygdala function and have sexually dimorphic roles in social behavior. Furthermore, ASD-associated OXT and VP system aberrances appear to affect amygdala function, in part in a sex-dependent manner. Together, these findings support the hypothesis that OXT and VP signaling in the amygdala are key factors underlying the sex-differential liability for ASD. Further research into the relation between OXT and VP aberrances, amygdala function, sex and social deficits in ASD is however warranted.