Preventing PTSD with oxytocin: effects of oxytocin administration on fear neurocircuitry and PTSD symptom development in recently trauma-exposed individuals
- Jessie L. Frijling
- European journal of psychotraumatology
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disabling psychiatric disorder. As a substantial part of PTSD patients responds poorly to currently available psychotherapies, pharmacological interventions boosting treatment response are needed. Because of its anxiolytic and pro-social properties, the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) has been proposed as promising strategy for treatment augmentation in PTSD. As a first step to investigate the therapeutic potential of OT in PTSD, we conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over functional MRI study examining OT administration effects (40 IU) on amygdala reactivity toward emotional faces in unmedicated male and female police officers with (n=37, 21 males) and without (n=40, 20 males) PTSD. Trauma-exposed controls were matched to PTSD patients based on age, sex, years of service and educational level. Under placebo, the expected valence-dependent amygdala reactivity (ie, greater activity toward fearful-angry faces compared with happy-neutral faces) was absent in PTSD patients. OT administration dampened amygdala reactivity toward all emotional faces in male and female PTSD patients, but enhanced amygdala reactivity in healthy male and female trauma-exposed controls, independent of sex and stimulus valence. In PTSD patients, greater anxiety prior to scanning and amygdala reactivity during the placebo session were associated with greater reduction of amygdala reactivity after OT administration. Taken together, our results indicate presumably beneficial neurobiological effects of OT administration in male and female PTSD patients. Future studies should investigate OT administration in clinical settings to fully appreciate its therapeutic potential.