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 Healths (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has discovered. Scans of the hormone oxytocins effect on human brain function reveal that it quells the brains 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.
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