Macdonald K, Macdonald TM. The peptide that binds: a systematic review of oxytocin and its prosocial effects in humans. Harv Rev Psychiatry 18: 1-21

Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.
Harvard Review of Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 1.73). 01/2010; 18(1):1-21. DOI: 10.3109/10673220903523615
Source: PubMed


Oxytocin is a neuropeptide involved in a wide variety of social behaviors in diverse species. Recent research on its effects in humans has generated an arresting picture of its role in the dynamic function of the social brain. This review presents a broad overview of this uniquely social peptide, with a particular focus on extant studies of its effects in humans. After a short discussion of the evolutionary history of the oxytocin system, critical aspects of its peripheral and central physiology, and several salient technical issues surrounding human oxytocin research, a systematic review of studies of the effects of intranasal oxytocin in humans is presented. These effects include alterations in social decision making, processing of social stimuli, certain uniquely social behaviors (e.g., eye contact), and social memory. Oxytocin's prosocial influence is then framed by an evolutionary perspective on its role in mammalian social bonding and attachment. Finally, limitations in current human oxytocin research and oxytocin's potential therapeutic applications are discussed. Key conclusions are (1) human research with intranasal oxytocin has uniquely enhanced our understanding of the microstructure and function of the human social brain, and (2) the oxytocin system is a promising target for therapeutic interventions in a variety of conditions, especially those characterized by anxiety and aberrations in social function.

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    • "Participants received intranasal oxytocin (OT; 24 IU/ml; Syntocinon, Novartis Pharma), synthetic vasopressin (AVP; 80 IU/ml; Desmopressine-acetaat Actavis), or placebo (saline PCH, Pharmachemie B.V.) in a double-blind, intra-subject, counterbalanced crossover design. The hormonal dosages and the timing of the experiment (45 min) were based on prior studies (see for example MacDonald & MacDonald, 2010). Effects of the oxytocin and vasopressin nasal sprays manifest within 10 min after administration and last for at least 80 min (e.g., Born et al., 2002). "
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    ABSTRACT: Caregiving interest in men (N=46) during the third trimester of their partner's pregnancy was examined. The study included both explicit and implicit measures of caregiving interest, assessments of basal urinary concentrations of oxytocin and vasopressin, and exogenous (intranasal) application of these hormones. Compared to control men (N=20), fathers-to-be reported more interest in direct care for children. In an immersive virtual environment, fathers-to-be, in comparison to control men, stood closer to and tended to spend more time looking at the baby-related avatars, and stood further away and tended to spend less time looking at non-baby-related avatars. Basal oxytocin and vasopressin were not related to caregiving interest in fathers-to-be, and were not different from control men. When vasopressin was administered, fathers-to-be invested more time watching the baby-related avatars compared to control men. No effects were found of exogenous oxytocin on the behavior of fathers-to-be and control men in the immersive virtual environment. These results point in the direction of an adjustment of fathers-to-be for fatherhood, both consciously and unconsciously, and support the possible role of vasopressin in human behavior in the transition to fatherhood. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2015 · Infant behavior & development
    • "The role of the neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) as a stress buffering hormone in older individuals is not well examined. OXT is now known as a prosocial hormone [1] [2] with stress buffering actions [3]. Despite a rapid increase in knowledge of OXT " s central role in social stress, stress perception, and decision making over the past decade, there is a paucity of studies that have investigated the role of OXT in socioemotional functioning in healthy, elderly individuals [4] [5]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Whether oxytocin functions as a stress hormone in older age is unknown. We investigated levels and the perceived stress of an adverse life event in an older population-representative sample and considered the effect of a secure/insecure attachment style on this association. Non-fasting plasma oxytocin was measured from 952 participants (65-90 years) of the cross sectional KORA-Age study. The psychological impact of an adverse life event was assessed based on the Psychosocial Stress Questionnaire. Attachment style was determined by the Relationship-Specific Attachment Scales for Adults. Linear regression models of oxytocin, stratified for attachment style, were controlled for age, sex, and further for alcohol, smoking, and physical activity. Adjusted least squares means of oxytocin were calculated. Oxytocin levels did not differ between men and women (mean, 95% confidence interval (CI), 321 (277-365) and 309 (272-345)pg/ml, respectively). Oxytocin levels were positively associated with the experience of an adverse event (n=273, 29%) versus no event (n=679, 71%), in securely attached (β estimate=0.17, standard error (SE)=0.08, P value=0.03) but not in insecure participants (-0.10, 0.09), P=0.28). Oxytocin was positively associated with diminished stress among securely attached participant (event with little suffering: β=0.35. SE=0.12, great suffering: β=0.15. SE=0.14, severe suffering: β=0.03. SE=0.12). Among participants who reported minimal suffering, insecure individuals had lower oxytocin (adjusted mean, 95%CI: 172, 127-216pg/ml) than securely attached individuals (279, 222-352pg/ml, P=0.006). These epidemiologic data support the hypothesis that oxytocin may have an attenuating effect on perceived stress due to adverse life events in old age. The conditional role of attachment style in stress-induced endogenous oxytocin production is highlighted. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    No preview · Article · Mar 2015 · Psychoneuroendocrinology
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    • "In the current study, we explored a possible role of oxytocin in mediating the association between childhood emotional maltreatment and participants' evaluation of infants' mood as derived from infants' facial emotional expressions. Oxytocin is a neuro-peptide associated with trust, empathy and emotion recognition [12] [13]. It is well known for its anxiolytic effects and its effects on prosocial behaviors such as in-group favoritism [14] and sensitive parenting [15] [16] [17]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Childhood emotional maltreatment has been associated with a higher risk for maltreating one’s own offspring. In the current study, we explored a possible role of oxytocin in mediating the association between childhood emotional maltreatment and participants’ interpretation of infant facial expressions. Oxytocin levels were measured in 102 female participants using saliva samples. They rated the mood of thirteen infants with happy, sad and neutral facial expressions. Emotional maltreatment indirectly influenced responses to happy infant faces by modulating oxytocin levels: Higher self-reported emotional maltreatment was related to higher levels of salivary oxytocin which were in turn related to a more positive evaluation of happy infant expressions, but not to the evaluation of sad infant expressions. Oxytocin receptor polymorphism rs53576 did not moderate the relation between maltreatment experiences and salivary oxytocin levels. Early emotional maltreatment might indirectly affect emotional information processing by altering the oxytonergic system.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · Physiology & Behavior
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