Preliminary evidence that plasma oxytocin levels are elevated in major depression
Parker, KJ; Kenna, HA; Zeitzer, JM; Keller, J; Blasey, CM; Amico, JA; Schatzberg, AF
Psychiatry Res. 2010; 178(2):359-62.
It is well established that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) is involved in regulating social behavior, anxiety, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis physiology in mammals. Because individuals with major depression often exhibit functional irregularities in these measures, we test in this pilot study whether depressed subjects (n=11) exhibit dysregulated OT biology compared to healthy control subjects (n=19). Subjects were hospitalized overnight and blood samples were collected hourly between 1800 and 0900h. Plasma levels of OT, the closely related neuropeptide argine-vasopressin (AVP), and cortisol were quantified. Results indicated that depressed subjects exhibit increased OT levels compared to healthy control subjects, and this difference is most apparent during the nocturnal peak. No depression-related differences in AVP or cortisol levels were discerned. This depression-related elevation in plasma OT levels is consistent with reports of increased hypothalamic OT-expressing neurons and OT mRNA in depressed patients. This present finding is likewise consistent with the hypothesis that dysregulated OT biology may be a biomarker of the emotional distress and impaired social relationships which characterize major depression. Additional research is required to elucidate the role of OT in the pathophysiology of this psychiatric disorder.