Preliminary data on oxytocin modulation of neural reactivity in women to emotional stimuli of children depending on childhood emotional neglect.

Developmental psychobiology(2023)

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Sensitivity for rewarding cues and distress signals from children is fundamental to human caregiving and modulated by the neuropeptide oxytocin. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated whether oxytocin regulates neural responses to reward or distress cues form children. In a placebo-controlled, within-subject design, we measured neural responses to positive, negative, and neutral cues from children in 22 healthy female subjects who received oxytocin (24 IU) versus placebo. Further, based on current literature, we hypothesized that oxytocin effects are modulated by experiences of childhood trauma. The task elicited valence-specific effects-positive images activated the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, left anterior cingulate cortex, and right putamen, and images of children in distress activated the bilateral amygdala, hippocampus, and right medial superior frontal cortex. The effects of oxytocin depended on subjective reports of childhood emotional neglect. Self-reported neglect interacted with oxytocin administration in the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal areas. In individuals with higher scores of emotional neglect, oxytocin increased neural reactivity of limbic structures to positive and neutral images. Our findings need replication in larger samples and can therefore be considered preliminary but are in line with the recent literature on the modulating effect of childhood adversity on the sensitivity to oxytocin administration.
caregiving,childhood emotional neglect,fMRI,oxytocin,salience
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