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Oxytocin is a key mediator of emotional and social behavior that seems to be of relevance for the development and maintenance of addictive behaviors. We thus investigated the effect of oxytocin on neural response and behavior during a face-matching task in a sample of social drinkers. Thirteen social drinkers underwent a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over functional magnetic resonance imaging face-matching task with and without prior intranasal application of 24 international units oxytocin. Effects of oxytocin and task condition (faces, shapes) on brain activation and individual task performance were assessed. Face-matching compared to shape-matching trials resulted in higher brain activation in the bilateral amygdala, hippocampus and parts of the occipital gyri. Oxytocin application vs. placebo reduced activation in bilateral amygdala, parts of the frontal gyri, and the parietal lobe. Region of interest analyses indicated that the oxytocin-induced attenuation of amygdala response was specific to face-stimuli and associated with lower subjective alcohol craving, and a lower percentage of heavy-drinking days (defined as ≥ 5 standard drinks/day). For the first time, we could show that a larger oxytocin-induced attenuation of amygdala response to fearful faces is associated with lower subjective craving for alcohol and percentage of heavy drinking days in social drinkers. Modulation of amygdala activation, induced by emotional stimuli, might represent a neurobiological substrate of oxytocin's protective effects on drug seeking behavior.


Patrick Bach, Anne Koopmann, Jan Malte Bumb, Sina Zimmermann, Sina Bühler, Iris Reinhard, Stephanie H Witt, Marcella Rietschel, Sabine Vollstädt-Klein, Falk Kiefer. Oxytocin attenuates neural response to emotional faces in social drinkers: an fMRI study. European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience. 2021 Aug;271(5):873-882

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PMID: 32076819

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