Intranasal administration of oxytocin: Behavioral and clinical effects, a review

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Abstract

The intranasal (IN-) administration of substances is attracting attention from scientists as well as pharmaceutical companies. The effects are surprisingly fast and specific. The present review explores our current knowledge about the routes of access to the cranial cavity. ‘Direct-access-pathways’ from the nasal cavity have been described but many additional experiments are needed to answer a variety of open questions regarding anatomy and physiology.

Among the IN-applied substances oxytocin (OT) has an extensive history. Originally applied in women for its physiological effects related to lactation and parturition, over the last decade most studies focused on their behavioral ‘prosocial’ effects: from social relations and ‘trust’ to treatment of ‘autism’.

Only very recently in a microdialysis study in rats and mice, the ‘direct-nose-brain-pathways’ of IN-OT have been investigated directly, implying that we are strongly dependent on results obtained from other IN-applied substances. Especially the possibility that IN-OT activates the ‘intrinsic’ OT-system in the hypothalamus as well needs further clarification.

We conclude that IN-OT administration may be a promising approach to influence human communication but that the existing lack of information about the neural and physiological mechanisms involved is a serious problem for the proper understanding and interpretation of the observed effects.

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