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Chronic Intranasal Oxytocin Causes Long-Term Impairments in Partner Preference Formation in Male Prairie Voles

Posted Oct 21 2012 10:46am

There is a great deal of discussion here and elsewhere about alternative medicine and it’s application to autism. If one points out that a specific therapy is poorly founded in facts and/or not completely tested, a common response is that one is “anti-cure” “anti-treatment” or the like. Safety issues, always at the forefront to the point of misrepresentation when discussion of vaccines, are often completely ignored in the alt-med world when discussing proposed therapies.

One therapy that hasn’t been discussed much here at LBRB is oxytocin. Some of the studies on oxytocin and autism have been, well, odd. But others have covered those aspects better than I could. Now comes a study on lab animals exploring long-term effects:

Here is the abstract:

BACKGROUND: Oxytocin (OT) is a hormone shown to be involved in social bonding in animal models. Intranasal OT is currently in clinical trials for use in disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. We examined long-term effects of intranasal OT given developmentally in the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), a socially monogamous rodent, often used as an animal model to screen drugs that have therapeutic potential for social disorders.

METHODS: We treated voles with one of three dosages of intranasal OT, or saline, from day 21 (weaning) through day 42 (sexual maturity). We examined both social behavior immediately following administration, as well as long-term changes in social and anxiety behavior after treatment ceased. Group sizes varied from 8 to 15 voles (n = 89 voles total).

RESULTS: Treatment with OT resulted in acute increases in social behavior in male voles with familiar partners, as seen in humans. However, long-term developmental treatment with low doses of intranasal OT resulted in a deficit in partner preference behavior (a reduction of contact with a familiar opposite-sex partner, used to index pair-bond formation) by male voles.

CONCLUSIONS: Long-term developmental treatment with OT may show results different to those predicted by short-term studies, as well as significant sex differences and dosage effects. Further animal study is crucial to determining safe and effective strategies for use of chronic intranasal OT, especially during development.

Basically they exposed prairie voles to oxytocin from about the equivalent of being a toddler (weaning) to adulthood (sexual maturity). It’s a short time for these animals (21 days) but in that amount of time the males showed changes in behavior beyond those observed in short-term trials.

This isn’t a complete “put the brakes on this line of research” study, but it does shed light on the sort of caution that should (and, sadly, often isn’t) applied to alt-med. Some have jumped the gun on oxytocin as a therapy before dosage and long-term effects have been explored.

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