Experience of stress in childhood negatively correlates with plasma oxytocin concentration in adult men

Stress. 2012 Jan;15(1):1-10. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2011.560309. Epub 2011 Jun 19.


Early life experience is known to affect responses to stress in adulthood. Adverse experience in childhood and/or adolescence sensitises to life events that precipitate depression in later life. Published evidence suggests a relationship between depression and oxytocin (OT), but the extent to which early life experience influences OT disposition in adulthood deserves further exploration. This study hypothesised that early life stress (ELS) has a long-term negative effect on OT system activity. The study was performed on 90 male volunteers (18-56 years; mean ± standard deviation = 27.7 ± 7.09 years). Several questionnaires were used to assess: health, early life stressful experiences in childhood (ELS-C, up to 12 years) and early life stressful adolescence (13-18 years), recent stressful life events, depressive symptoms, state-trait anxiety and social desirability. Plasma OT concentration was estimated by means of a competitive enzyme immunoassay. Lower OT concentrations were significantly associated with higher levels of ELS-C (p < 0.01), and with depressive symptoms and trait anxiety (both p < 0.05). The interaction between ELS-C and trait anxiety was significant (p < 0.05), indicating that the link between ELS-C and plasma OT concentration is moderated by trait anxiety. These results contribute to the evidence that early life adverse experience is negatively associated with OT system activity in adulthood, and offer further insight into mediator and moderator effects on this link.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxytocin / blood*
  • Stress, Psychological* / physiopathology


  • Oxytocin