|Researchers link oxytocin to enhanced socialization
A MUSC brain imaging study shows that a single dose of intra-nasal
oxytocin, which can relieve anxiety and is important for maternal
bonding and attachment, may promote engaged social interactions in
The study was lead by Ziad Nahas, M.D., associate professor, MUSC
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and medical director
of the Brain Stimulation Laboratory and Mood Disorders Clinic, in
collaboration with Dr. Jaak Panksepp from Washington State University,
and Dr. David Pincus from SUMMA Health in Akron, Ohio.
This is the first study to look at the effects of oxytocin on brain
activity in unmedicated depressed individuals and to compare it to
healthy controls. It’s also the first to analyze oxytocin’s influence
on brain activity while performing a mental task developed specifically
to examine the mental attribution of emotions.
Subjects were asked to infer the mental state of a person from the
expression in their eyes; a test called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes.”
During this task, depressed patients displayed greater activity in the
area of the brain associated with instinctive and primary emotions.
After inhaling the oxytocin, depressed patients appeared to call on
more abstract regions to process this task.
“A hallmark of depression is how disconnected the patients feel from
their social milieu,” said Nahas. “The patients in our study seemed
much more reactive and instinctive in their assessments of others’
mental states. This changed when we gave them oxytocin as if it helped
their brain recruit into wider possibilities. Their brain activities
started resembling our healthy subjects.”
Since only a single dose was administered, it is not known what role
oxytocin may have in clinically treating depressive symptoms. Findings
support the idea that manipulating the brain in processing social tasks
allows it to be less self-referential.
The next step is to study oxytocin during several weeks in clinical
settings and see if it can help treat depression and anxiety symptoms.
The study appears in Frontiers in Psychiatry and was funded by the Hope
for Depression Research Foundation.
Friday, Oct. 29, 2010