A Spatiotemporal Profile of In Vivo Cerebral Blood Flow Changes Following Intranasal Oxytocin in Humans

Biol Psychiatry. 2016 Apr 15;79(8):693-705. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.10.005. Epub 2014 Oct 18.


Background: Animal and human studies highlight the role of oxytocin in social cognition and behavior and the potential of intranasal oxytocin (IN-OT) to treat social impairment in individuals with neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism. However, extensive efforts to evaluate the central actions and therapeutic efficacy of IN-OT may be marred by the absence of data regarding its temporal dynamics and sites of action in the living human brain.

Methods: In a placebo-controlled study, we used arterial spin labeling to measure IN-OT-induced changes in resting regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in 32 healthy men. Volunteers were blinded regarding the nature of the compound they received. The rCBF data were acquired 15 min before and up to 78 min after onset of treatment onset (40 IU of IN-OT or placebo). The data were analyzed using mass univariate and multivariate pattern recognition techniques.

Results: We obtained robust evidence delineating an oxytocinergic network comprising regions expected to express oxytocin receptors, based on histologic evidence, and including core regions of the brain circuitry underpinning social cognition and emotion processing. Pattern recognition on rCBF maps indicated that IN-OT-induced changes were sustained over the entire posttreatment observation interval (25-78 min) and consistent with a pharmacodynamic profile showing a peak response at 39-51 min.

Conclusions: Our study provides the first visualization and quantification of IN-OT-induced changes in rCBF in the living human brain unaffected by cognitive, affective, or social manipulations. Our findings can inform theoretical and mechanistic models regarding IN-OT effects on typical and atypical social behavior and guide future experiments (e.g., regarding the timing of experimental manipulations).

Keywords: Arterial spin labeling; Cerebral blood flow; Intranasal; Oxytocin; Pharmacodynamics; Resting state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Central Nervous System Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Central Nervous System Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / drug effects*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Oxytocin / pharmacokinetics
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated
  • Rest
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Oxytocin