Deficit of Oxytocin in Women with Major Depression

Deficit of Oxytocin in Women with Major Depression

A new study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research extends the results of two previous studies and provides evidence that oxytocin levels are low in women with depression, including patients with psychotic major depression (PMD), who typically exhibit greater depressive severity.

The neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) has been implicated in many aspects of reproductive and social behaviors or mammalian sociality. This includes parental care, recognition and attachment; social bonding and ‘the shift from self to other’, trust, empathy, ‘social selectivity’ and other components of the behavioral spectrum.

Oxytocin has also been linked to Williams syndrome, increased generosity and the regulation of stress responsiveness and anxiety.

The evidence from animal and clinical studies suggests a potential role of the OXT system in  the  pathophysiology  of  major depression ,  as  well  as  a  potential  therapeutic  benefit  of  OXT  in  at  least  some subsets of MDD patients.

Recent evidence has implicated OXT in numerous complex behaviours, particularly anxiolysis. Thus, given that half of the patients diagnosed with major depression meet criteria for co-morbid anxiety disorder, OXT may be of therapeutic benefit in these patients, as well as those with only anxiety.

In the Journal of Psychiatric Research study Kaeli Yuen and colleagues from the Department of Psychiatry, Stanford University, Stanford, CA found that plasma oxytocin levels were decreased in depressed females but increased (non-significantly) in depressed males compared to gender-matched healthy controls.

The study provides further insights into the link between oxytocin and depression, and the role of dysregulated oxytocin pathways in this condition. As depression is much more common in women than men (and 1 in 4 women will require treatment for depression at some time), the study may also help explain, at least in part, the female preponderance of depression.

In addition, the study suggests that oxytocin levels may also be linked to desirability, drug dependence, and compulsivity scores as measured by the Million Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III.

Source: J Psychiatr Res, 2014, 51:30-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2013.12.012. Epub 2013 Dec 28.
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