Propranolol for treating emotional, behavioural, autonomic dysregulation in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders

Ilyas Sagar-Ouriaghli, Kate Lievesley, Paramala J. Santosh*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    31 Citations (Scopus)


    Objectives: To date, there is no single medication prescribed to alleviate all the core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, 2016). Both serotonin reuptake inhibitors and drugs for psychosis possess therapeutic drawbacks when managing anxiety and aggression in ASD. This review sought to appraise the use of propranolol as a pharmacological alternative when managing emotional, behavioural and autonomic dysregulation (EBAD) and other symptoms. Materials and methods: Sixteen reports examined the administration of propranolol in the context of ASD. Results: Sixteen reports broadly covered cognitive domains, neural correlates, and behavioural domains. From the eight single-dose clinical trials, propranolol led to significant improvements in cognitive performance – verbal problem solving, social skills, mouth fixation, and conversation reciprocity; and changes in neural correlates – improvement in semantic networks and functional connectivity. The remaining eight case series and single case reports showed improvements in EBAD, anxiety, aggressive, self-injurious and hypersexual behaviours. Additionally, propranolol significantly improved similar behavioural domains (aggression and self-injury) for those with acquired brain injury. Conclusion: This review indicates that propranolol holds promise for EBAD and cognitive performance in ASD. Given the lack of good quality clinical trials, randomised controlled trials are warranted to explore the efficacy of propranolol in managing EBAD in ASD.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)641-653
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
    Issue number6
    Early online date27 Feb 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


    • aggression
    • anxiety
    • ASD
    • Autism Spectrum Disorder
    • beta-blockers
    • EBAD
    • propranolol


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