Overview of Human Oxytocin Research
Social dysfunction is a core symptom of many psychiatric disorders and current medications have little or no remedial effects on this. Following on from extensive studies on animal models demonstrating that the neuropeptide oxytocin plays an important role in social recognition and bonding, human-based research has explored its therapeutic potential for social dysfunction in psychiatric disorders. Here we outline the historical background of this human-based research and some of the current methodological challenges it is facing. To date, research has primarily attempted to establish functional effects through measuring altered endogenous concentrations, observing effects of exogenous administration and by investigating the effects of polymorphisms and epigenetic modifications of the oxytocin receptor gene. We summarize some of the key findings on behavioral and neural effects that have been reported in healthy subjects in the context of social cognition which have provided encouragement that oxytocin could represent a promising therapeutic target. At the same time, we have identified a number of key areas where we urgently need further information about optimal dosing strategies and interactions with other peptide and transmitter systems. Finally, we have summarized current translational findings, particularly in the context of therapeutic outcomes of intranasal oxytocin administration in autism and schizophrenia. These clinical findings while somewhat varied in outcome do offer increasing cause for optimism that targeting the oxytocin system may provide a successful therapeutic approach for social dysfunction. However, future research needs to focus on the most effective treatment strategy and which types of individuals are likely to benefit most.
KeywordsAutism Brain biomarkers Human Oxytocin Social cognition
KMK was supported by a National Natural Science Foundation of China grant [NSFC grant number 31530032].
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