Oxytocin alters patterns of brain activity and amygdalar connectivity by age during dynamic facial emotion identification

Neurobiol Aging. 2019 Jun:78:42-51. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2019.01.016. Epub 2019 Jan 29.


Aging is associated with increased difficulty in facial emotion identification, possibly due to age-related network change. The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) facilitates emotion identification, but this is understudied in aging. To determine the effects of OT on dynamic facial emotion identification across adulthood, 46 young and 48 older participants self-administered intranasal OT or a placebo in a randomized, double-blind procedure. Older participants were slower and less accurate in identifying emotions. Although there was no behavioral treatment effect, partial least squares analysis supported treatment effects on brain patterns during emotion identification that varied by age and emotion. For young participants, OT altered the processing of sadness and happiness, whereas for older participants, OT only affected the processing of sadness (15.3% covariance, p = 0.004). Furthermore, seed partial least squares analysis showed that older participants in the OT group recruited a large-scale amygdalar network that was positively correlated for anger, fear, and happiness, whereas older participants in the placebo group recruited a smaller, negatively correlated network (7% covariance, p = 0.002). Advancing the literature, these findings show that OT alters brain activity and amygdalar connectivity by age and emotion.

Keywords: Aging; Amygdala; Emotion; Functional connectivity; Oxytocin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions*
  • Face / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxytocin