Therapeutic alliance and perceived social support are important predictors of treatment response for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Intranasal oxytocin administration may enhance treatment response by increasing sensitivity for social reward and thereby therapeutic alliance and perceived social support. As a first step to investigate this therapeutical potential, we investigated whether intranasal oxytocin enhances neural sensitivity to social reward in PTSD patients. Male and female police officers with (n = 35) and without PTSD (n = 37) were included in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled cross-over fMRI study. After intranasal oxytocin (40 IU) and placebo administration, a social incentive delay task was conducted to investigate neural responses during social reward and punishment anticipation and feedback. Under placebo, PTSD patients showed reduced left anterior insula (AI) responses to social rewards (i.e. happy faces) compared with controls. Oxytocin administration increased left AI responses during social reward in PTSD patients, such that PTSD patients no longer differed from controls under placebo. Furthermore, in PTSD patients, oxytocin increased responses to social reward in the right putamen. By normalizing abberant insula responses and increasing putamen responses to social reward, oxytocin administration may enhance sensitivity for social support and therapeutic alliance in PTSD patients. Future studies are needed to investigate clinical effects of oxytocin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-223
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number2
Early online date2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex/drug effects
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dominance, Cerebral/drug effects
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Facial Recognition/drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Oxytocin/administration & dosage
  • Police/psychology
  • Putamen/drug effects
  • Reward
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic/drug therapy

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