Pharma & drug development

Oxytocin: the therapeutic potential of the ‘love hormone’

The bonding effects of oxytocin are well known; now a team of researchers from Tokyo University of Science have identified the hormone as a possible therapeutic modality for Alzheimer’s disease. Abi Millar takes a look at their research, along with other studies that examine the potential of oxytocin.

Oxytocin – the so-called ‘love hormone’ – is known for its profound effects on mood and social behaviour. Once seen primarily as a maternal hormone, with a role to play in childbirth and breastfeeding, it is now the subject of a huge body of research. As successive studies have reinforced, oxytocin is associated with trust, empathy, sexual activity, romantic attachment and group bonding.

These magical-seeming properties have, unsurprisingly enough, piqued the attention of medical researchers. Oxytocin nasal sprays have been trialled for a large number of disorders, including social anxiety, depression, autism, drug addiction, PTSD, IBS and even obesity. You can also buy sprays online, which are somewhat tenuously billed as enhancing the user’s social skills. 

Unfortunately, the field is littered with false starts and conflicting results. The hormone’s action within the body is complex, and occurs in the context of a broader neurochemical system. This makes it difficult to simulate its effects using a nasal spray. According to a 2015 review, “most of the reported positive findings regarding how OT [oxytocin] affects human behavior are likely to be false-positives”. 

That doesn’t mean scientists are likely to give up on oxytocin just yet. It just means the early buzz surrounding the hormone has given way to more nuanced discussion around what might be accomplished and what needs to happen first.

Read the rest of this article in the October 2020 edition of Pharma Technology Focus

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