Oxytocin is a hormone that regulates emotions and is crucial for social interaction. Although it has never been verified, it has previously been hypothesised that this hormone is deficient in a number of illnesses, including autism. Researchers from the University of Basel and the University Hospital of Basel have now successfully shown that individuals with a lack of vasopressin brought on by a condition of the pituitary gland also have a deficiency of oxytocin. This discovery could be important for creating novel treatment strategies.
In addition to being generated in the same region of the brain, oxytocin and vasopressin have a lot of structural similarities. Patients with a rare vasopressin deficit lose litres of water because they are unable to concentrate their pee. They need to consume at least 10 litres of liquid every day in order to make up for this loss. day.
These symptoms are often easily managed with a nasal spray or a pill containing vasopressin made synthetically. Nevertheless, after receiving this therapy, many patients still experience anxiety, have problems interacting with others, or have diminished emotional awareness.
These symptoms could be due to a deficiency of oxytocin, also known as the "bonding hormone". "Because the production of the two hormones is so close anatomically, disorders that cause vasopressin deficiency could also affect the neurons that produce oxytocin," explains Dr. Cihan Atila, endocrinologist and lead author of a study that has now been published in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.
Oxytocin boosters only work on the healthy
Oxytocin is, however, difficult to measure and a "stimulation test" is needed to produce a reliable result. This test stimulates oxytocin secretion, i.e. the release of the hormone in the body. MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine), better known as ecstasy, is one such stimulant substance.
Researchers at the University of Basel and the University Hospital of Basel, led by Professor Mirjam Christ-Crain, have now shown that oxytocin levels are 8.5 times higher in healthy individuals after a single dose of MDMA, while they remain unchanged in those with vasopressin deficiency. This provides strong evidence that their production of oxytocin is also impaired.
As expected, the increase in oxytocin in healthy individuals after a dose of MDMA caused pro-social behaviour and an increase in empathy, combined with a reduction in anxiety symptoms. The patients with vasopressin deficiency, on the other hand, showed no changes in these areas. "Oxytocin deficiency in people with vasopressin deficiency would at least partially explain this finding," says the endocrinologist Atila.
Therapy with oxytocin?
"These results, therefore, prove for the first time that a clinically relevant oxytocin deficiency actually exists. This finding opens up new therapeutic possibilities and could also be interesting for other diseases such as autism," says Mirjam Christ-Crain, study leader and deputy head of endocrinology at the University Hospital.
In addition, the results contribute to a deeper understanding of oxytocin as a key hormone for socio-emotional effects. The same researchers at the Department of Clinical Research are currently planning a large study to investigate whether treatment with oxytocin can improve the psychological symptoms in patients with vasopressin deficiency. (ANI)