Finding a better route to treating social anxiety disorder may lie in another part of the brain, researchers suggest — ScienceDaily
Studies have long suggested that oxytocin — a hormone that can also act as a neurotransmitter — regulates prosocial behavior such as empathy, trust and bonding, which led to its popular labeling as the “love hormone.” Mysteriously, oxytocin has also been shown to play a role in antisocial behaviors and emotions, including reduced cooperation, envy and anxiety. How oxytocin could exert such opposite roles had largely remained a mystery, but a new UC Davis study sheds light on how this may work.
Working with California mice, UC Davis researches showed that the “love hormone” oxytocin can sometimes have antisocial effects depending on where in the brain it is made. (Mark Chappell/UC Riverside)
While most oxytocin is produced in an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus, some oxytocin is produced in another brain area known as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, or BNST. The BNST is known for its role in the stress response, and it may play a key role in psychiatric disorders such as depression, addiction and anxiety.
The findings of the study, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that oxytocin produced in the BNST increases stress-induced social anxiety behaviors in mice. This may provide an explanation as to why oxytocin can sometimes have antisocial effects. The lead author is Natalia Duque-Wilckens, a former doctoral researcher at UC Davis who is now at Michigan State University. The senior author is Brian Trainor, professor of psychology and director of the Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Lab at UC Davis.
“Before this study, we knew that stress increased the activity of the oxytocin-producing neurons located in the BNST, but we didn’t know if they could affect behavior. Our experiments show that production of oxytocin in the BNST is necessary for social anxiety behaviors