Link Between Oxytocin And Serotonin May Inform Therapy
By Wayne Pereanu, PhD on June 25, 2014
Background: Previous work has shown that some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have altered levels of oxytocin and serotonin, chemical messengers in the brain that regulate human emotion and behavior. Recent work in animal models has suggested that oxytocin influences the amount of serotonin produced. While this work in animals is suggestive, there have been no comparable studies in humans.
What's New: In the June 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers report that oxytocin regulates the level of serotonin in the brains of neurotypical individuals. The researchers administered oxytocin through the nose in half of the participants (the other half got a placebo). The group then injected study participants with a tracer compound that allows researchers to infer levels of serotonin in the participants’ brains using PET, a type of specialized brain scan. The team found that oxytocin application induced a decrease in the amount of serotonin in four brain areas that are thought to be important for emotion-based behavior.
Why it's important: Drugs that alter levels of either oxytocin or serotonin are currently used to treat various ASD-associated symptoms. This study is the first to show that oxytocin levels can decrease the amount of serotonin in human brains. While this supports previous animal studies, it is an important and requisite step to show this in humans. Their findings suggest that treatment of oxytocin and serotonin levels should be coordinated.
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