Collaborative Success Stories: Appropriate Treatment
University of Missouri researchers have discovered that the drug propranolol could increase functioning for individuals on the autism spectrum.
For people with autism, an atypical approach to processing language, facial expressions and social cues can complicate social interactions. MU neuroscientists David Beversdorf and Shawn Christ have discovered that propranolol, commonly used to treat high blood pressure and anxiety, could improve social functioning, language abilities and working memory in people with autism.
Typically, propranolol affects a neurotransmitter to reduce the fight-or-flight response. Among those with autism, the researchers discovered, the drug acts atypically to improve language and social function. The scientists also investigated propranolol’s effect on working memory, which stores small bits of information for short periods so people can remember directions, complete puzzles and follow conversations. They found that propranolol had minimal effect on participants without autism, but increased working memory in individuals with the disorder.
Through subsequent studies, the team has demonstrated that propranolol also beneficially affects verbal problem solving and improves a social interaction task. Funded by the Department of Defense, they are continuing their work via a clinical trial.
Drs. David Beversdorf and Shawn Christ have appointments in psychological sciences at the College of Arts and Science. Dr. Beversdorf also has an appointment at the School of Medicine, and both conduct research at MU’s Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
One Health/One Medicine