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Dr. Parker is Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University where she directs the Social Neurosciences Research Program and Chairs the Major Laboratories Steering Committee. Dr. Parker's research expertise is the biology of social functioning, with a particular interest in oxytocin and vasopressin signaling pathways. Her preclinical research program focuses on developing novel animal models; her clinical research program encompasses biomarker discovery and therapeutic testing in patients with neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. Dr. Parker’s research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Simons Foundation, and Department of Defense, published in leading scientific journals, and featured across diverse media outlets (e.g., NPR, CBS, New York Times, LA Times, Science, Scientific American). Dr. Parker received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan. She completed postdoctoral training at Stanford University and joined the Stanford faculty thereafter. She is an Affiliate Scientist at the California National Primate Research Center, an elected member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), and a Kavli fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. She has attended key opinion leader meetings at the U.S. National Academies, NIH,, and private foundations, and has held leadership roles on international animal research advisory committees (e.g., Society for Neuroscience’s CAR, ACNP’s ARC).
Stanford University; California National Primate Research Center; Caribbean Primate Research Center
The principal goal of the Parker Lab Social Neurosciences Research Program at Stanford University is to better understand the biology of social functioning using an integrative, translational approach. Our behavioral research spans studies of individual differences in animal social development to studies of social cognition impairments in various clinical populations (e.g., in children with autism; in survivors of pediatric hypothalamic-pituitary tumors; in adults with depressive and anxiety disorders). Our biological studies employ epigenetic, gene expression, and neurotransmitter-based approaches to identify biomarkers of impaired social functioning, and we also conduct treatment trials to test the efficacy of novel pharmacotherapies to improve social abilities in animal models and in patients with social deficits. Our lab is particularly interested in testing whether “social” neuropeptide (e.g., oxytocin and arginine vasopressin) signaling pathways are implicated in human and non-human primate social behavior, and whether these neuropeptide pathways are robust biomarkers of, and treatment targets for, social impairments in clinical populations.
Intranasal Vasopressin Treatment in Children With Autism
The purpose of this clinical trial is to investigate the effectiveness of vasopressin nasal
spray for treating symptoms associated with autism. Vasopressin is a hormone that is produced
naturally within the body and has been implicated in regulating social behaviors. It has been
proposed that administration of the hormone may also help improve social functioning in
individuals with autism.
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The Role of Vasopressin in the Social Deficits of Autism
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine are seeking participants for a
study examining the effectiveness of vasopressin, a neuropeptide, in treating children with
autism spectrum disorder. Difficulty with social interactions is characteristic of people
with autism, who often have problems interpreting facial expressions or maintaining eye
contact while talking with someone. There are currently no effective medicines available to
treat social problems in individuals with autism. Neuropeptides, such as vasopressin and
oxytocin, are molecules used by neurons in the brain to communicate with one another.
Vasopressin is closely related to oxytocin, which is currently being tested as a treatment
for autism, and has been shown to enhance social functioning in animals. Animal studies have
shown that when the proper functioning of vasopressin is experimentally altered, animals
develop a variety of social deficits, including impaired memory for peers and a reduced
interest in social interaction. Researchers found that when vasopressin was administered to
mice with a genetically induced form of autism, their social functioning improved.
Vasopressin is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in humans, and
has proved to be a successful treatment for some common pediatric conditions, including
bedwetting. Similar to oxytocin, it also has been shown to improve social cognition and
memory in people who do not have autism. The researchers will test the effects of vasopressin
on social impairments in 50 boys and girls with autism, ages 6 to 12 years old. The study
will last four weeks for each participant. Participants will receive either vasopressin or a
placebo nasal spray. At the end of this phase of the study, those who received the placebo
will have the option of participating in a four-week trial during which they will be given
vasopressin. Stanford is the only site for the study. Participants do not need to live
locally but will need to come to the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and
Behavioral Sciences for study visits.
Stanford is currently not accepting patients for this trial.
For more information, please contact Robin A Libove, BS, 650-736-1235.
Intranasal Oxytocin Treatment for Social Deficits in Children With Autism
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by core deficits in social
behavior and communication, and the presence of repetitive or stereotyped behaviors. It is
one of three recognized disorders in the autism spectrum which affects an estimated 1 in 88
children in the United States. At present, pharmacotherapies target only associated features
of autism, with no effective drug treatments for the social impairments. Several lines of
evidence now suggest that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) may be an effective treatment for
the core social deficits in autism. Here we will test the effects of twice daily intranasal
OT (24 IU) over a 4-week period for enhancing social deficits in male and female children
aged 6-12 years with autism. This research has high potential to lead to the development of
more effective treatments and earlier interventions for children with autism.
Stanford is currently not accepting patients for this trial.
For more information, please contact Robin Libove, BS, (650) 736-1235.