Gender-specific effects of oxytocin
Leading investigators: Sabine C. Herpertz, Alexander Lischke
Cooperations: Gregor Domes (Freiburg), Lars Schulze (Berlin)
The neuropeptide oxytocin is known for enhancing trust and approach behavior to one’s conspecifics and to exert stress-reducing and anxiolytic effects. Our group is interested in the modulation of psychological functions that may mediate the prosocial effects of oxytocin. Regarding basic social cognitive functions such as facial processing we found that oxytocin improves “mind-reading” from the eyes and enhances the capability to recognize aversive facial expressions of fear and anger. A number of studies found that oxytocin reduces neuronal activity in the amygdala. In a study of our group oxytocin was shown to dampen neuronal activity in the amygdala in response to negative and positive facial stimuli in male healthy volunteers. However, oxytocin research has been widely restricted to males although it is crucially involved in the regulation of reproduction related behavior in female mammals and humans. Therefore, we started to study the effects of oxytocin in healthy women in the midluteal cycle and found that the results in females are at odds with the previously reported effects found in men. Blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal was enhanced in the left amygdala, the fusiform gyrus, and the superior temporal gyrus in response to fearful faces and in the inferior frontal gyrus in response to angry and happy faces following oxytocin treatment. Thus, oxytocin effects may differ between the sexes as a function of generational tasks. Studies, currently in progress, start from the hypothesis that oxytocin may enhance the detection of threatening stimuli in the environment in women, potentially by interacting with gonadal steroids, such as progesterone and estrogen the more as OT-dependent alterations in female threat-detection and safety-seeking behavior have also been reported from non-human mammals.
Lischke T, Berger C, Prehn C, Heinrichs M, Herpertz SC, Domes G. Intranasal oxytocin enhances emotion recognition from dynamic facial expressions and leaves eye-gaze unaffected. PNEC, in press.
Lischke T, Gamer M,, Berger C., Grossmann A, Hauenstein KH, Heinrichs M, Herpertz SC, Domes G. Oxytocin increases amygdala reactivity to threatening scenes in females. SCAN, revised version submitted
Schulze L, Lischke A., Greif J, Herpertz SC, Heinrichs M, Domes G (2011) Oxytocin increases recognition of masked emotional faces. PNEC, 36, 1378-82.
Domes G , Lischke T, Berger C, Grossmann A, Hauenstein K, Heinrichs M, Herpertz SC (2010) Effects of intranasal oxytocin on emotional face processing in women. PNEC, 35, 83-93.
Domes G, Heinrichs M, Gläscher J, Braus DF, Büchel C, Herpertz SC (2007) Oxytocin attenuates amygdala responses to emotional faces regardless of valence. Biol Psychiatry, 62, 1187-1190.