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. 2020 Jan 9;10:930.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00930. eCollection 2019.

Oxytocin as Treatment for Social Cognition, Not There Yet

Free PMC article

Oxytocin as Treatment for Social Cognition, Not There Yet

Amaia M Erdozain et al. Front Psychiatry. .
Free PMC article


In a short time, oxytocin has progressed from being a regular hormone involved in parturition and breastfeeding to be possibly the neuromodulator that has gathered the most attention. Attributed many positive roles in the modulation of different aspects of social behavior, such as bonding, empathy, cooperation, trust, and generosity, as well as roles as a natural anxiolytic and antidepressant, the expectations on oxytocin becoming a treatment for a number of disorders with associated social deficits have dramatically raised over the last years. However, despite the field has been investigating oxytocin's role in social behavior for over twenty years, there are still many unknowns on oxytocin's mechanisms of action and efficiency and the increasing number of clinical trials administering oxytocin to different clinical groups seem to disagree in its properties and report in most cases conflicting results. This has led to some disappointment among researchers and clinicians as oxytocin might not be the miraculous molecule that works in a "one size fits all" fashion initially considered. Conversely, this down-side of oxytocin might merely reflect the complexity of its neurotransmission system. The current reality is that, although oxytocin seems to have potential therapeutic value, there are key questions that remain unanswered as to decide the optimal target groups and treatment course. Here, we present an overview on critical points regarding the oxytocin system in health and disease that need to be better understood to establish its therapeutic properties and to decide who could benefit the most from its treatment.

Keywords: autism; clinical trial; depression; oxytocin; schizophrenia; social cognition.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Schematic representation of the strategies needed to guide OXT-based treatments. Bigger sample sizes as well as studies focusing on the potential differential effect of OXT based on sex and age are needed. More efficient delivery paradigms, including the development of specific OXTR modulators would overcame the issue of i.n. administration. The integration of data from multiple aspects, including brain imaging, genetic, and neuroendocrine biomarkers, in conjunction with standardized evaluation of social behaviors, including longitudinal follow-ups, are required to understand the effectiveness of OXT and who could benefit from its treatment.

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