Oxytocin and Anxiety Disorders

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2018;35:467-498. doi: 10.1007/7854_2017_25.


In the present chapter, we review the literature focusing on oxytocin (OT)-centered research in anxiety spectrum conditions, comprising separation anxiety disorder, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and anxiety-related endophenotypes (e.g., trust behavior, behavioral inhibition, neuroticism, and state/trait anxiety). OT receptor gene (OXTR) polymorphisms have been implicated in gene-environment interactions with attachment style and childhood maltreatment and to influence clinical outcomes, including SAD intensity and limbic responsiveness. Epigenetic OXTR DNA methylation patterns have emerged as a link between categorical, dimensional, neuroendocrinological, and neuroimaging SAD correlates, highlighting them as potential peripheral surrogates of the central oxytocinergic tone. A pathophysiological framework of OT integrating the dynamic nature of epigenetic biomarkers and the summarized genetic and peripheral evidence is proposed. Finally, we emphasize opportunities and challenges of OT as a key network node of social interaction and fear learning in social contexts. In conjunction with multi-level investigations incorporating a dimensional understanding of social affiliation and avoidance in anxiety spectrum disorders, these concepts will help to promote research for diagnostic, state, and treatment response biomarkers of the OT system, advancing towards indicated preventive interventions and personalized treatment approaches.

Keywords: Amygdala; Anxiety disorder; Epigenetic; Fear extinction; Generalized anxiety disorder; Genetic; Imaging genetics; Intranasal oxytocin; Neuroticism; OXT; OXTR; Oxytocin; Oxytocin receptor; Panic disorder; Separation anxiety disorder; Social anxiety disorder; Social phobia; Specific phobia; Therapy genetics; Trait anxiety; Treatment response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • DNA Methylation
  • Fear / psychology
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Social Environment


  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Oxytocin