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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013 Sep;229(1):199-208. doi: 10.1007/s00213-013-3099-4. Epub 2013 May 5.

The effect of intranasal oxytocin treatment on conditioned fear extinction and recall in a healthy human sample.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.

Abstract

RATIONALE:

To improve outcomes for patients undergoing extinction-based therapies (e.g., exposure therapy) for anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there has been interest in identifying pharmaceutical compounds that might facilitate fear extinction learning and recall. Oxytocin (OT) is a mammalian neuropeptide that modulates activation of fear extinction-based neural circuits and fear responses. Little is known, however, about the effects of OT treatment on conditioned fear responding and extinction in humans.

OBJECTIVES:

The purpose of the present study was to assess the effects of OT in a fear-potentiated startle task of fear conditioning and extinction.

METHODS:

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 44 healthy human participants was conducted. Participants underwent a conditioned fear acquisition procedure, after which they were randomized to treatment group and delivered OT (24 IU) or placebo via intranasal (IN) spray. Forty-five minutes after treatment, participants underwent extinction training. Twenty-four hours later, subjects were tested for extinction recall.

RESULTS:

Relative to placebo, the OT group showed increased fear-potentiated startle responding during the earliest stage of extinction training relative to placebo; however, all treatment groups showed the same level of reduced responding by the end of extinction training. Twenty-four hours later, the OT group showed significantly higher recall of extinction relative to placebo.

CONCLUSIONS:

The current study provides preliminary evidence that OT may facilitate fear extinction recall in humans. These results support further study of OT as a potential adjunctive treatment for extinction-based therapies in fear-related disorders.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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