Lower CSF oxytocin concentrations in women with a history of childhood abuse

Mol Psychiatry. 2009 Oct;14(10):954-8. doi: 10.1038/mp.2008.112. Epub 2008 Oct 28.


Early-life disruption of the parent-child relationship, for example, in the form of abuse, neglect or loss, dramatically increases risk for psychiatric, as well as certain medical, disorders in adulthood. The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) plays a seminal role in mediating social affiliation, attachment, social support, maternal behavior and trust, as well as protection against stress and anxiety. We therefore examined central nervous system OT activity after early-life adversity in adult women. We measured OT concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collected from 22 medically healthy women, aged 18-45 years, categorized into those with none-mild versus those with moderate-severe exposure to various forms of childhood abuse or neglect. Exposure to maltreatment was associated with decreased CSF OT concentrations. A particularly strong effect was identified for emotional abuse. There were inverse associations between CSF OT concentrations and the number of exposure categories, the severity and duration of the abuse and current anxiety ratings. If replicated, the association of lower adult CSF OT levels with childhood trauma might indicate that alterations in central OT function may be involved in the adverse outcomes of childhood adversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Anxiety / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxytocin / cerebrospinal fluid*


  • Oxytocin