Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Trust-building hormone short-circuits fear in humans


A brain chemical recently found to boost trust appears to work by reducing activity and weakening connections in fear-processing circuitry, a brain imaging study at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has discovered. Scans of the hormone oxytocin’s effect on human brain function reveal that it quells the brain’s fear hub, the amygdala, and its brainstem relay stations in response to fearful stimuli. The work at NIMH and a collaborating site in Germany suggests new approaches to treating diseases thought to involve amygdala dysfunction and social fear, such as social phobia, autism, and possibly schizophrenia, report Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, M.D., Ph.D., NIMH Genes Cognition and Psychosis Program, and colleagues, in the December 7, 2005 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging data (red) superimposed on structural MRI scans. Frightful faces triggered a dramatic reduction in amygdala activity in subjects who had sniffed oxytocin, suggesting that oxytocin mediates social fear and trust via the amygdala and related circuitry. Source: NIMH Genes, Cognition and Psychosis Program.

"Studies in animals, pioneered by now NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel, have shown that oxytocin plays a key role in complex emotional and social behaviors, such as attachment, social recognition and aggression," noted NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D.. "Now, for the first time, we can literally see these same mechanisms at work in the human brain."

"The observed changes in the amygdala are exciting as they suggest that a long-acting analogue of oxytocin could have therapeutic value in disorders characterized by social avoidance," added Insel.

Inspired by Swiss scientists who last summer reported [1] that oxytocin increased trust in humans, Meyer-Lindenberg and colleagues quickly mounted a brain imaging study that would explore how this works at the level of brain circuitry. British researchers had earlier linked increased amygdala activity to decreased trustworthiness. [2] Having just discovered decreased amygdala activity in response to social stimuli in people with a rare genetic brain disorder that rendered them overly trusting of others, Meyer-Lindenberg hypothesized that oxytocin boosts trust by suppressing the amygdala and its fear-processing networks.

To test this idea, he asked 15 healthy men to sniff oxytocin or a placebo prior to undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan, which reveals what parts of the brain that are activated by particular activities. While in the scanner, the men performed tasks known to activate the amygdala – matching angry or fearful faces and threatening scenes.

As expected, the threatening pictures triggered strong activation of the amygdala during the placebo scan, but markedly less activity following oxytocin. The difference was especially pronounced in response to threatening faces, suggesting a pivotal role for oxytocin in regulating social fear. In addition, oxytocin dampened the amygdala’s communication with sites in the upper brainstem that telegraph the fear response. The results mirrored findings in rats [3], reported earlier this year by European scientists.

"Because increased amygdala activation has been associated with social fear in social phobia, genetic risk for anxiety and depression, and possibly with social fear in autism assessed during faces processing, this dual mode of action of oxytocin in humans suggests a potentially powerful treatment approach toward socially relevant fear," suggest the researchers.

People with autism characteristically avert their gaze from faces. A fMRI study [4] reported earlier this year by NIMH grantee Richard Davidson, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, and colleagues, found over-activation of the amygdala in people with autism when they were looking at faces. Meyer-Lindenberg said future studies may test oxytocin as a treatment for such social anxiety symptoms in children with autism.

"Future research may also examine how oxytocin affects the amygdala in women, the mode of action of related hormones such as vasopressin, and how genetic variants in these hormones and their receptors affect brain function," he added.

Also participating in the research were: Peter Kirsch, Christin Esslinger, Daniela Mier, Stefanie Lis, Harald Gruppe, Bernd Gallhofer, Justus-Liebig University, Giessen, Germany; Qiang Chen, Sarina Siddhanti, Venkata Mattay, NIMH Genes Cognition and Psychosis Program.

Jules Asher | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Advanced analysis of brain structure shape may track progression to Alzheimer's disease
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts General Hospital

nachricht Indian roadside refuse fires produce toxic rainbow
26.10.2016 | Duke University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>