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Intranasal Oxytocin Mechanisms Can Be Better Understood, but Its Effects on Social Cognition and Behavior Are Not to Be Sniffed At

  • Daniel S. Quintana
    Affiliations
    NORMENT, KG Jebsen Centre for Psychosis Research, Division of Mental Health and Addiction, University of Oslo, and Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway
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  • Joshua D. Woolley
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Joshua D. Woolley, M.D., Ph.D., San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 4150 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Francisco; and San Francisco, California

    San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, California
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      The administration of intranasal oxytocin (OT) has demonstrated a wide range of effects on social behavior and cognition, which has led to its proposed use as a treatment for psychiatric disorders characterized by social cognition deficits. Leng and Ludwig (
      • Leng G.
      • Ludwig M.
      Intranasal oxytocin: Myths and delusions.
      ) have raised many important issues in regard to intranasal OT research in their provocatively titled review. We wholeheartedly agree with the authors’ opinion that the mechanisms underlying intranasal OT are poorly understood (
      • Quintana D.S.
      • Alvares G.A.
      • Hickie I.B.
      • Guastella A.J.
      Do delivery routes of intranasally administered oxytocin account for observed effects on social cognition and behavior? A two-level model.
      ). However, the authors appear to be making the case that the behavioral effects of OT are suspect because the specific mechanisms of the effect of intranasal OT on social behavior and cognition are not well known. We comment on some aspects of this review and highlight recent work with intranasal OT that provides much needed dose-response data controlling for peripheral effects.
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      1. Quintana DS, Westlye LT, Rustan ØG, Tesli N, Poppy CL, Smevik H, et al. (2015): Low dose oxytocin delivered intranasally with breath powered device affects social-cognitive behavior: a randomized 4-way crossover trial with nasal cavity dimension assessment. Transl Psychiatry 5:e602.

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