Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program

Recent Publications

Hollander E, Soorya L, Chaplin W, Anagnostou E, Taylor BP, Ferretti CJ, Wasserman S, Swanson E, Settipani C. 
The effects of fluoxetine and placebo on repetitive behaviors and global severity were compared in adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
Adults with ASDs were enrolled in a 12-week double-blind placebo-controlled fluoxetine trial. Thirty-seven were randomly assigned to fluoxetine (N=22) or placebo (N=15). Dosage followed a fixed schedule, starting at 10 mg/day and increasing as tolerated up to 80 mg/day. Repetitive behaviors were measured with the compulsion subscale of the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale; the Clinical Global Impression (CGI) improvement scale was used to rate improvement in obsessive-compulsive symptoms and overall severity.
There was a significant treatment-by-time interaction indicating a significantly greater reduction in repetitive behaviors across time for fluoxetine than for placebo. With overall response defined as a CGI global improvement score of 2 or less, there were significantly more responders at week 12 in the fluoxetine group than in the placebo group. The risk ratio was 1.5 for CGI global improvement (responders: fluoxetine, 35%; placebo, 0%) and 1.8 for CGI-rated improvement in obsessive-compulsive symptoms (responders: fluoxetine, 50%; placebo, 8%). Only mild and moderate side effects were observed.
Fluoxetine treatment, compared to placebo, resulted in significantly greater improvement in repetitive behaviors, according to both the Yale-Brown compulsion subscale and CGI rating of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, as well as on the CGI overall improvement rating. Fluoxetine appeared to be well tolerated. These findings stand in contrast to findings in a trial of citalopram for childhood autism. 


The 5-HT(2A) receptor and serotonin transporter in Asperger's Disorder: A PET study with [(11)C]MDL 100907 and [(11)C]DASB.

Evidence from biochemical, imaging, and treatment studies suggest abnormalities of the serotonin system in autism spectrum disorders, in particular in frontolimbic areas of the brain. We used the radiotracers [(11)C]MDL 100907 and [(11)C]DASB to characterize the 5-HT(2A) receptor and serotonin transporter in Asperger's Disorder. Seventeen individuals with Asperger's Disorder (age=34.3±11.1years) and 17 healthy controls (age=33.0±9.6years) were scanned with [(11)C]MDL 100907. Of the 17 patients, eight (age=29.7±7.0years) were also scanned with [(11)C]DASB, as were eight healthy controls (age=28.7±7.0years). Patients with Asperger's Disorder and healthy control subjects were matched for age, gender, and ethnicity, and all had normal intelligence. Metabolite-corrected arterial plasma inputs were collected and data analyzed by two-tissue compartment modeling. The primary outcome measure was regional binding potential BP(ND). Neither regional [(11)C]MDL 100907 BP(ND) nor [(11)C]DASB BP(ND) was statistically different between the Asperger's and healthy subjects. This study failed to find significant alterations in binding parameters of 5-HT(2A) receptors and serotonin transporters in adult subjects with Asperger's Disorder.


A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of topiramate for pathological gambling.

Abstract Objectives. Pathological gambling (PG) is an impulse control disorder characterized by recurrent gambling thoughts and behaviours that impair social functioning. Earlier studies suggested that topiramate may be effective in treating some impulse control disorders. We conducted the first randomized, controlled trial of topiramate in PG. Methods. PG patients were randomized to topiramate (N = 20) or placebo (N = 22) in this 14-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group trial. The primary outcome measure was change in the obsessions subscale of the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale Modified for Pathological Gambling. Results. Mixed regression models (time [weeks] × treatment) revealed no significant treatment effect of topiramate on the primary or secondary outcome measures. The most statistically robust findings involved reducing the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS) total score and Motor and Non-Planning subscale scores, for which topiramate outperformed placebo at merely a trend level (P < 0.1). Conclusions. The observed trend in BIS score reductions may warrant further investigation to study whether topiramate reduces clinically important impulsivity in PG. Treatment studies with larger samples and less stringent exclusion criteria are needed to produce results that can be generalized to pathological gamblers in the community.


Oxytocin can hinder trust and cooperation in borderline personality disorder.

Bartz J, Simeon D, Hamilton H, Kim S, Crystal S, Braun A, Vicens V, Hollander E. 
We investigated the effects of intranasal oxytocin (OXT) on trust and cooperation in borderline personality disorder (BPD), a disorder marked by interpersonal instability and difficulties with cooperation. Although studies in healthy adults show that intranasal OXT increases trust, individuals with BPD may show an altered response to exogenous OXT because the effects of OXT on trust and pro-social behavior may vary depending on the relationship representations and expectations people possess and/or altered OXT system functioning in BPD. BPD and control participants received intranasal OXT and played a social dilemma game with a partner. Results showed that OXT produced divergent effects in BPD participants, decreasing trust and the likelihood of cooperative responses. Additional analyses focusing on individual differences in attachment anxiety and avoidance across BPD and control participants indicate that these divergent effects were driven by the anxiously attached, rejection-sensitive participants. These data suggest that OXT does not uniformly facilitate trust and pro-social behavior in humans; indeed, OXT may impede trust and pro-social behavior depending on chronic interpersonal insecurities, and/or possible neurochemical differences in the OXT system. Although popularly dubbed the 'hormone of love', these data suggest a more circumspect answer to the question of who will benefit from OXT.
Data were analyzed from 2 prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of escitalopram in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to characterize the baseline levels of functional disability and impairment in health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and to assess the relationship between treatment outcomes (response or relapse) and disability or HRQoL.
Patients with more severe baseline symptoms (YBOCS > or = 27) reported significantly greater impairment on the SDS (P < .001) and SF-36 (except for bodily pain). Patients receiving escitalopram or paroxetine reported significant improvements on most SF-36 dimensions and on the SDS compared to placebo; however, improvements in work-related functioning were seen earlier for patients receiving escitalopram (20 mg/d). At the study endpoints, SDS and SF-36 scores were significantly better for patients who were responders (versus nonresponders) and for patients who did not relapse (versus relapsers).
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is associated with significant impairment in functioning and HRQoL. Significant differences in disability and HRQoL between responders and nonresponders or relapsers and nonrelapsers suggest a relationship between symptomatic and functional outcomes. 


Autism and oxytocin: new developments in translational approaches to therapeutics.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by dysfunction in three core symptom domains: speech and communication deficits, repetitive or compulsive behaviors with restricted interests, and social impairment. The neuropeptide oxytocin, along with the structurally similar peptide arginine vasopressin, may play a role in the etiology of autism, and especially in the social impairment domain. Oxytocin is a nonapeptide (i.e., it has nine amino acids). It is synthesized in magnocellular neurons in the paraventricular nucleus and the supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus and is released into the bloodstream by way of axon terminals in the posterior pituitary. Oxytocin is released both peripherally, where it is involved in milk letdown and the facilitation of uterine contractions, and centrally, where it acts as a neuromodulator along with arginine vasopressin. Here, we discuss relevant translational research pertaining to the role of oxytocin in social and repetitive behaviors and consider clinical implications. We also discuss current research limitations, review recent preliminary findings from studies involving oxytocin in autism spectrum disorder patient populations, and point to possible directions for future research.


Lack of efficacy of citalopram in children with autism spectrum disorders and high levels of repetitive behavior: citalopram ineffective in children with autism.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the efficacy and safety of citalopram hydrobromide therapy for repetitive behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders. DESIGN: National Institutes of Health-sponsored randomized controlled trial. INTERVENTIONS: Twelve weeks of citalopram hydrobromide (10 mg/5 mL) or placebo. The mean (SD) maximum dosage of citalopram hydrobromide was 16.5 (6.5) mg/d by mouth (maximum, 20 mg/d). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Positive response was defined by a score of much improved or very much improved on the Clinical Global Impressions, Improvement subscale. An important secondary outcome was the score on the Children's Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scales modified for pervasive developmental disorders. Adverse events were systematically elicited using the Safety Monitoring Uniform Report Form. RESULTS: 
There was no significant difference in the rate of positive response on the Clinical Global Impressions, Improvement subscale between the citalopram-treated group (32.9%) and the placebo group (34.2%) (relative risk, 0.96; 95% confidence interval, 0.61-1.51; P > .99). There was no difference in score reduction on the Children's Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scales modified for pervasive developmental disorders from baseline (mean [SD], -2.0 [3.4] points for the citalopram-treated group and -1.9 [2.5] points for the placebo group; P = .81). Citalopram use was significantly more likely to be associated with adverse events, particularly increased energy level, impulsiveness, decreased concentration, hyperactivity, stereotypy, diarrhea, insomnia, and dry skin or pruritus.
CONCLUSION: Results of this trial do not support the use of citalopram for the treatment of repetitive behavior in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.


Ondansetron augmentation in treatment-resistant obsessive-compulsive disorder: a preliminary, single-blind, prospective study.

Serotonin and dopamine neuronal systems have been implicated in the modulation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms. About 40% of OCD patients do not respond to first-line selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) treatment; among those, dopamine blocker augmentation has been reported to improve the rate of response by an additional one-third. Given that serotonin 5-HT(3) receptors are indirect inhibitors of cortico-mesolimbic dopamine release, augmentation with the 5-HT(3) receptor antagonist ondansetron in combination with SSRIs and antipsychotics has potential efficacy in treatment-resistant OCD patients. To assess the efficacy and tolerability of ondansetron in combination with SSRIs and antipsychotics in patients with treatment-resistant OCD. In total, 14 patients with a DSM-IV diagnosis of OCD, who were treatment resistant and receiving stable treatment with SSRIs and antipsychotic augmentation, entered a 12-week, single-blind trial of ondansetron. The drug was initiated at a dosage of 0.25 mg twice daily for 6 weeks and was then titrated to 0.5 mg twice daily for 6 weeks. Of the 14 patients, nine (64.3%) experienced a treatment response (> or =25% reduction in the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale [YBOCS] score and a Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement [CGI-I] score of 1 or 2) at 12 weeks. The average reduction in YBOCS-rated symptoms for the whole group was 23.2%. None of the treated patients experienced symptom exacerbation or significant adverse effects. These results suggest that low-dose ondansetron may have promise as an augmentation strategy for some patients with OCD resistant to SSRIs and antipsychotic augmentation, but further controlled trials are required.


Probing compulsive and impulsive behaviors, from animal models to endophenotypes: a narrative review.

Failures in cortical control of fronto-striatal neural circuits may underpin impulsive and compulsive acts. In this narrative review, we explore these behaviors from the perspective of neural processes and consider how these behaviors and neural processes contribute to mental disorders such as OCD, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and impulse-control disorders such as trichotillomania and pathological gambling. We present findings from a broad range of data, comprising translational and human endophenotypes research and clinical treatment trials, focussing on the parallel, functionally segregated, cortico-striatal neural projections, from orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) to medial striatum (caudate nucleus), proposed to drive compulsive activity, and from the anterior cingulate/ventromedial prefrontal cortex to the ventral striatum (nucleus accumbens shell), proposed to drive impulsive activity, and the interaction between them. We suggest that impulsivity and compulsivity each seem to be multidimensional. Impulsive or compulsive behaviors are mediated by overlapping as well as distinct neural substrates. Trichotillomania may stand apart as a disorder of motor-impulse control, whereas pathological gambling involves abnormal ventral reward circuitry that identifies it more closely with substance addiction. OCD shows motor impulsivity and compulsivity, probably mediated through disruption of OFC-caudate circuitry, as well as other frontal, cingulate, and parietal connections. Serotonin and dopamine interact across these circuits to modulate aspects of both impulsive and compulsive responding and as yet unidentified brain-based systems may also have important functions. Targeted application of neurocognitive tasks, receptor-specific neurochemical probes, and brain systems neuroimaging techniques have potential for future research. 
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