Evidence of Dysregulated Peripheral Oxytocin Release Among Depressed Women

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Abstract

Objective:

Oxytocin is a hypothalamic neuropeptide that plays a key role in mammalian female reproductive function. Animal research indicates that central oxytocin facilitates adaptive social attachments and modulates stress and anxiety responses. Major depression is prevalent among postpubertal females, and is associated with perturbations in social attachments, dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal stress axis, and elevated levels of anxiety. Thus, depressed women may be at risk to display oxytocin dysregulation. The current study was developed to compare patterns of peripheral oxytocin release exhibited by depressed and nondepressed women.

Methods:

Currently depressed (N = 17) and never-depressed (N = 17) women participated in a laboratory protocol designed to stimulate, measure, and compare peripheral oxytocin release in response to two tasks: an affiliation-focused Guided Imagery task and a Speech Stress task. Intermittent blood samples were drawn over the course of two, 1-hour sessions including 20-minute baseline, 10-minute task, and 30-minute recovery periods.

Results:

The 10-minute laboratory tasks did not induce identifiable, acute changes in peripheral oxytocin. However, as compared with nondepressed controls, depressed women displayed greater variability in pulsatile oxytocin release over the course of both 1-hour sessions, and greater oxytocin concentrations during the 1-hour affiliation-focused imagery session. Oxytocin concentrations obtained during the imagery session were also associated with greater symptoms of depression, anxiety, and interpersonal dysfunction.

Conclusions:

Depressed women are more likely than controls to display a dysregulated pattern of peripheral oxytocin release. Further research is warranted to elucidate the clinical significance of peripheral oxytocin release in both depressed and nondepressed women.

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