Neurophysiological effects of acute oxytocin administration: systematic review and meta-analysis of placebo-controlled imaging studies

Neurophysiological effects of acute oxytocin administration: systematic review and meta-analysis of placebo-controlled imaging studies

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J Psychiatry Neurosci 2015;40(1):E1-E22

Rebekah Wigton, MSc, PhD (candidate); Joaquim Radua, MD, BStat, PhD; Paul Allen, PhD; Bruno Averbeck, PhD; Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, MD, PhD; Philip McGuire, MBChB, MD, PhD; Sukhi S. Shergill, MBBS, PhD*; Paolo Fusar-Poli, MD, PhD*


Background: Oxytocin (OXT) plays a prominent role in social cognition and may have clinical applications for disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and social anxiety. The neural basis of its mechanism of action remains unclear.

Methods: We conducted a systematic literature review of placebo-controlled imaging studies using OXT as a pharmacological manipulator of brain activity.

Results: We identified a total of 21 studies for inclusion in our review, and after applying additional selection criteria, 11 of them were included in our fMRI voxel-based meta-analysis. The results demonstrate consistent alterations in activation of brain regions, including the temporal lobes and insula, during the processing of social stimuli, with some variation dependent on sex and task. The meta-analysis revealed significant left insular hyperactivation after OXT administration, suggesting a potential modulation of neural circuits underlying emotional processing.

Limitations: This quantitative review included only a limited number of studies, thus the conclusions of our analysis should be interpreted cautiously. This limited sample size precluded a more detailed exploration of potential confounding factors, such as sex or other demographic factors, that may have affected our meta-analysis.

Conclusion: Oxytocin has a wide range of effects over neural activity in response to social and emotional processing, which is further modulated by sex and task specificity. The magnitude of this neural activation is largest in the temporal lobes, and a meta-analysis across all tasks and both sexes showed that the left insula demonstrated the most robust activation to OXT administration.

*These authors contributed equally to this work.

Submitted Dec. 18, 2013; Revised Apr. 1, June 22, 2014; Accepted June 25, 2014.

Acknowledgements: P. Fusar-Poli was supported in part by a 2014 NARSAD Young Investigator Award.

Affiliations: Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, London, UK (Wigton, Radua, Allen, McGuire, Shergill, Fusar-Poli); Fidmag, Cibersam, Sant Boi de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain (Radua); Laboratory of Neuropsychology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA (Averbeck); Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim-Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany (Meyer-Lindenberg).

Competing interests: None declared.

Contributors: R. Wigton, J. Radua, S. Shergill and P. Fusar-Poli designed the study. R. Wigton and P. Fusar-Poli acquired the data, which all authors analyzed. R. Wigton, J. Radua, P. Allen and P. Fusar-Poli wrote the article, which all authors reviewed and approved for publication.

DOI: 10.1503/jpn.130289

Correspondence to: R. Wigton, Cognition and Schizophrenia Imaging Laboratory, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, De Crespigny Park Rd., London, UK, SE5 8AF;