Beta blockers may induce beneficiary effects for autism spectrum disorder

Beta-adrenergic blocking agents, or beta-blockers, often used to reduce high blood pressure, cardiovascular conditions, and anxiety, may also have benefits for autism, according to a study by the University of Missouri School of Medicine. The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Autism.

Researchers focused on propranolol, a medication that is part of the beta-blocker class, during their examination of 13 young adult participants with autism spectrum disorder and a group of 13 more participants without the neurodevelopmental condition.

For each participant, researchers administered either the beta-blocker propranolol, a similar beta-blocker known as nadolol, or a placebo. The participants underwent three sessions of brain screening using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) following consumption of either treatment.

When researchers analyzed the results, they found that the group of participants who consumed propranolol did better at a word generation test. In the MRI scans, it showed how propranolol use among participants was associated with extensive connectivity in the frontal-parietal control network.

“Propranolol also altered network efficiency of regions associated with semantic processing and in an exploratory analysis reduced functional differences in the fronto-parietal control network in individuals with autism spectrum disorder,” according to the study.

“The benefits from propranolol may also be able to be predicted from baseline autonomic nervous system measures, which warrants further investigation.”

Researchers are now looking to conduct further research on the benefits of propranolol. This time, with a larger population of patients with autism. The team has already secured a federal grant from the Department of Defense and testing is expected to begin in the near future.