Happy Valentine’s Day! “Love Hormone” Oxytocin Shows Promise in Treating Anxiety Disorders


Happy Valentines Day friends!


Although the symptoms of generalized social anxiety disorder are sometimes alleviated by antidepressant medicines such as Prozac, and tranquilizers such as Valium, these medications do not work for everyone. But a former NARSAD grantee and members of an international research team now report progress in understanding a new potential medical treatment for anxiety, which affects approximately 40 million American adults.

The researchers looked at the anxiety-reducing effects of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter sometimes called the “love hormone” for its ability to reduce stress and promote pro-social behaviors such as trust, empathy, and openness to social risk. Oxytocin has now been shown to make the amygdala less reactive to pictures of threatening or fearful faces. Previous research identified the amygdala as a crucial brain area for emotional processing.

In a paper appearing August 6th in Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers expanded on previous findings showing oxytocin’s influence on the amygdala. The research team was led by Stephanie M. Gorka, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois and included Pradeep Nathan, Ph.D., of Cambridge University (formally Monash University), recipient of a 2007 NARSAD Independent Investigator grant. They examined how oxytocin affects connections between the amygdala and other parts of the brain in people with anxiety disorder.

As study participants viewed fearful faces, brain scans with functional MRI showed that the amygdala communicated significantly less with other parts of the brain in those with generalized social anxiety, compared to those not diagnosed with anxiety disorder.  The less connected the amygdala was to other brain regions, the higher the anxious participants’ baseline stress levels were. Importantly, oxytocin reversed those trends by increasing amygdala connectivity in anxiety patients, while decreasing amygdala connectivity in everyone else.

These findings suggest that oxytocin can have specific effects in people with anxiety through its influence on the amygdala. More broadly, the fact that oxytocin had opposite effects in the two participant groups indicates that the neurotransmitter’s success in reducing stress and promoting social behavior depends on individual brain characteristics, which differ between those with anxiety and those without the disorder. Thus, while oxytocin continues to show promise as a potential treatment for anxiety, it may not promote positive social behaviors in everyone.

As noted by Professor Nathan and colleagues, these findings are preliminary. To better assess how presumed changes in the brain influence actual experiences of anxiety, further research is needed to test oxytocin on more people with and without anxiety disorders. This, the scientists say, will be crucial in determining whether and exactly how oxytocin can improve treatment for anxiety disorders.

Some Thoughts on the “Nasal spray device for mental illness” Post

I saw the article “Nasal spray device for mental illness” (http://www.neuroscientistnews.com/clinical-updates/nasal-spray-device-mental-illness) article late last night and decided to simply post it because it was so interesting (https://bipolar1blog.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/nasal-spray-device-for-mental-illness/) Somehow, even though I didn’t post it on my FB Bipolar1Blog page, my statistics show that it’s gotten 25 views! That is a huge amount of traffic in less than 12 hours! People are looking for new ways to treat mental illness, obviously, we all are. And here is a novel way, using a nasal spray. Although not so novel if you think about people whose noses are/were rimmed with white powder in rest rooms of fancy restaurants, coming out with glassy eyes and torrential conversations and activity. That would be the first intranasal “therapy” for whatever you thought ailed you. Just something that occurred to me, no disrespect to people with mental illness or old or new or developing treatments for mental illness! Anyway, we’ve known for a long time that substances can reach the brain through the nose, (nose http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20010222/this-nasal-spray-may-clear-your-brain-not-your-sinuses) There are nerve endings in the nose from two very powerful nerves, the olfactory nerve and the trigeminal nerve. And both these nerves obviously have their roots in the brain. So if substances can travel these nerve “super highways”, they can get directly into the brain without having to go into the bloodstream, thereby avoiding the blood brain barrier. Large molecules such as Oxytocin, cannot cross the blood brain barrier. It is also faster to send molecules to the brain through the nasal route than to have them enter the bloodstream, go to the heart and then be pumped out to the rest of the body and brain.

So these researchers in Oslo decided to look at Oxytocin, a molecule that promotes social interaction, eases pregnancy, childbirth, and milk letdown after the birth of the infant. They observe that people with autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar d/o have poor social functioning, so a dose of Oxytocin will help them be better in social interactions. Since Oxytocin is a large molecule, it wouldn’t pass the blood brain barrier, so they decided to try this nasal route. It helps if you have a big nose, and if you breathe. The Oxytocin goes directly to the brain and “The research showed that only those administered a low dose of oxytocin experienced an effect on how they perceived social signals.”

The researchers say that these effects were seen in only the men who received low doses of Oxytocin intranasally. The effects were not seen in men who received Oxytocin intravenously.

Whatever the effects were, whether Oxytocin can be used as a therapy for mental illness or not, this study is important because it shows that drugs can be delivered intranasally, directly to the brain, avoiding the blood circulation and the blood brain barrier and or GI/stomach problems. More drugs can be tested for intranasal delivery. A quicker and hopefully more effective route into the brain, leading to more effective therapies for treating mental/neurological illnesses.