People with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have trouble communicating and interacting with others because they process language, facial expressions and social cues differently. Previously, researchers found that propranolol, a drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety and panic, could improve the language abilities and social functioning of people with an ASD. Now, University of Missouri investigators say the prescription drug also could help improve the working memory abilities of individuals with autism.
Working memory represents individuals' ability to hold and manipulate a small amount of information for a short period; it allows people to remember directions, complete puzzles and follow conversations. Neurologist David Beversdorf and research neuropsychologist Shawn Christ found that propranolol improves the working memory performance of people with an ASD.
"Seeing a tiger might signal a fight or flight response. Nowadays, a stressor such as taking an exam could generate the same response, which is not helpful," said Beversdorf, an associate professor in the Departments of Radiology and Neurology in the MU School of Medicine. "Propranolol works by calming those nervous responses, which is why some people benefit from taking the drug to reduce anxiety."