Oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) DNA-methylation levels have been associated with trauma-exposure, mood- and anxiety disorders, and social processes relevant to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We hypothesized that OXTR methylation may play a role in the neurobiological underpinnings of PTSD. In the current study, we compared OXTR methylation between PTSD patients (n = 31, 14 females) and trauma-exposed controls (n = 36, 19 females). Additionally, the association between OXTR methylation and PTSD symptom severity and amygdala reactivity to an emotional faces task was assessed, as a neural hallmark of PTSD. DNA-methylation was investigated in the CpG island located at exon 3 of the OXTR, previously associated with OXTR expression. We observed a significant interaction between PTSD-status, sex and CpG-position on methylation levels. Post-hoc testing revealed that methylation levels at two specific CpG-sites were significantly higher in PTSD females compared to female trauma-exposed controls and PTSD males (CpGs Chr3:8809437, Chr3:8809413). No significant differences in methylation were observed between male PTSD patients and controls. Furthermore, within PTSD females, methylation in these CpG-sites was positively associated with anhedonia symptoms and with left amygdala responses to negative emotional faces, although this was no longer significant after stringent correction for multiple-comparisons. Though the modest size of the current sample is an important limitation, we are the first to report on OXTR methylation in PTSD, replicating previously observed (sex-specific) associations of OXTR methylation with other psychiatric disorders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-155
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number1
Early online date2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Amygdala
  • Anhedonia
  • DNA-methylation
  • OXTR
  • Oxytocin
  • PTSD

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