Publication 5571

Quattrocki E. & Friston K. (2014) Autism, oxytocin and interoception. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 47: 410–430. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/5571
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by profound social and verbal communication deficits, stereotypical motor behaviors, restricted interests, and cognitive abnormalities. Autism affects approximately 1% of children in developing countries. Given this prevalence, identifying risk factors and therapeutic interventions are pressing objectives – objectives that rest on neurobiologically grounded and psychologically informed theories about the underlying pathophysiology. In this article, we review the evidence that autism could result from a dysfunctional oxytocin system early in life. As a mediator of successful procreation, not only in the reproductive system, but also in the brain, oxytocin plays a crucial role in sculpting socio-sexual behavior. Formulated within a (Bayesian) predictive coding framework, we propose that oxytocin encodes the saliency or precision of interoceptive signals and enables the neuronal plasticity necessary for acquiring a generative model of the emotional and social ‘self.’ An aberrant oxytocin system in infancy could therefore help explain the marked deficits in language and social communication – as well as the sensory, autonomic, motor, behavioral, and cognitive abnormalities – seen in autism.

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