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Front. Pharmacol. | doi: 10.3389/fphar.2018.00154

The associations between oxytocin and trauma in humans: A systematic review

 Mariana F. Donadon1, Rocio M. Santos2 and  Flávia L. Osório1*
  • 1Neuroscience and Behavior, University of São Paulo, Brazil
  • 2Department of Medicine, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain

Studies have shown that traumatic experiences may affect hormonal systems mediated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the oxytocinergic system. This effect is the result of long-term impairments in hypothalamic structures and negative feedback mechanisms within the HPA axis, structures that mediate the response to stress. This deregulation reduces the production and release of cortisol and oxytocin (OXT), which may alter stress responses and lead to increased vulnerability to impairments from stressful experiences. The presence of gene polymorphisms might also have an impact on the vulnerability to psychopathology. We made a systematic review of articles dealing with the relationship between OXT and traumatic emotional experiences in humans. Thirty-five studies were reviewed and significant associations between experiences of emotional trauma (ET) and OXT were found. The main results showed that the presence of ET and PTSD is strongly associated with reductions in endogenous OXT, and also that the acute effects of OXT administrations in individuals with ET tend to be anxiolytic only in less severe forms. In victims of recent traumatic experiences, OXT increased the re-experience of traumas and restored the function of different neural networks associated with fear control/extinction in PTSD patients. The results available also suggest that gene receptor polymorphisms may have a protective function in different outcomes after the experience of traumatic events. We conclude that the relationship between ET and OXT is multifaceted, complex, and mediated by contextual and individual factors. Directions for future studies are suggested considering the gaps in the available literature.

Keywords: Oxytocin, early trauma, Current trauma, PTSD, Systematic review, PRISMA, Qualitative assessment.

Received: 14 Aug 2017; Accepted: 13 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Xinhua Qu, Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital, China

Reviewed by:

Gail A. Alvares, Telethon Kids Institute, Australia
Marijn Lijffijt, Baylor College of Medicine, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Donadon, Santos and Osório. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Flávia L. Osório, University of São Paulo, Neuroscience and Behavior, AV: Bandeirantes, 3900, São Paulo, 14048-900, Brazil,