Researchers found the oxytocin receptor that plays a role in mother-baby bonding may also aid in the ability to recognize faces.
The finding could bring medical researchers a step closer to finding a more efficient treatment for disorders that affect the ability to read and process social cues, such as autism spectrum disorder, an Emory Health and Sciences news release reported. The findings could also help researchers work to improve social cognition in certain social disorders.
To make their finding the researchers looked at 198 families that included one autistic child; two thirds of the families were from the U.K. and the rest were from Finland.
Past studies have linked the oxytocin receptor to "olfactory-based social recognition in rodents," this encouraged the researchers to look for a link between the receptor and facial recognition skills.
The team looked at the genetic structure of the oxytocin receptor in the autistic child as well as their parents and non-autistic siblings. They found the "DNA of the oxytocin receptor had a big impact on face memory skills in the families," the news release reported.
The finding suggests oxytocin may have a larger role in social interactions than we previously believed.
The team believes their finding has important evolutionary implications. Rodents tend to respond to scent-based social cues while humans are more visual.
" This suggests an ancient conservation in genetic and neural architectures involved in social information processing that transcends the sensory modalities used from mouse to man," the news release reported.
The team found that mice that possessed a mutated oxytocin receptor were less likely to recognize other rodents they had encountered in the past than those with non-mutated receptors.
"This led us to pursue more information about facial recognition and the implications for disorders in which social information processing is disrupted," author Larry Young, PhD, of Yerkes, the Department of Psychiatry in Emory's School of Medicine and Emory's Center for Translational Social Neuroscience (CTSN) said.