Major mental illness and the Love hormone

Oxytocin for schizophrenia – More positive news

Oxytocin is a hypothalamic peptide which is involved in social cognition and social behaviour. It is sometimes colloquially referred to as the 'love hormone', given it's involvement in bonding, empathy and trust. In recent years, oxytocin has been proposed as a possible new treatment for psychiatric disorders in which inter-personal relationships are problematic. The list of candidate conditions has included social anxiety disorder, autism and schizophrenia.

In the case of schizophrenia, clinical trials have begun to appear in the last few years. Two American groups have reported promising findings in small-scale studies. New findings from a trial carried out by researchers based in Tehran are also positive. The Iranian trial has the advantage in that patients were followed up for 8 weeks, compared to 2-3 weeks in the US studies. It was also slightly larger in size.

In the Iranian study, the addition of oxytocin to risperidone led to improvements in the intensity of positive psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions and suspiciousness). There were also improvements in negative symptoms (apathy, amotivation, reduced sociability), although this was less pronounced.

The authors concluded: “Oxytocin as an adjunct to risperidone tolerably and efficaciously improves positive symptoms of schizophrenia. In addition, effects on negative and total psychopathology scores were statistically significant, but likely to be clinically insignificant. The interesting findings from the present pilot study need further replication in a larger population of patients.

The paper is available here