Effects of intranasal oxytocin on amygdala reactivity to emotional faces in recently trauma-exposed individuals

Jessie L. Frijling, Mirjam van Zuiden, Saskia B. J. Koch, Laura Nawijn, Dick J. Veltman, Miranda Olff

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There is a need for effective, early post-trauma preventive interventions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Attenuating amygdala hyperreactivity early post-trauma, a likely PTSD vulnerability factor, may decrease PTSD risk. Since oxytocin modulates amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli, oxytocin administration early post-trauma may be a promising candidate for PTSD prevention. In a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled fMRI study, we investigated effects of a single intranasal oxytocin administration (40 IU) on amygdala reactivity to happy, neutral and fearful faces in 41 recently trauma-exposed men and women showing moderate to high distress after initial post-trauma screening. We explored treatment interactions with sex. Participants were scanned within 11 days post-trauma. Compared with placebo, oxytocin significantly increased right amygdala reactivity to fearful faces. There was a significant treatment by sex interaction on amygdala reactivity to neutral faces, with women showing increased left amygdala reactivity after oxytocin. These findings indicate that a single oxytocin administration may enhance fearful faces processing in recently trauma-exposed individuals and neutral faces processing in recently trauma-exposed women. These observations may be explained by oxytocin-induced increased salience processing. Clinical implications of these findings for PTSD prevention should be further investigated. Netherlands Trial Registry; Boosting Oxytocin after trauma: Neurobiology and the Development of Stress-related psychopathology (BONDS); NTR3190; http://www.trialregister.nl/trialreg/admin/rctview.asp?TC = 3190
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-336
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


  • PTSD
  • amygdala
  • oxytocin
  • prevention
  • sex differences
  • trauma

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