Oxytocin as a possible mediator of
SSRI-induced antidepressant effects

Uvnas-Moberg K, Bjokstrand E, Hillegaart V, Ahlenius S
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology,
Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.
Psychopharmacology (Berl) 1999 Feb; 142(1):95-101


The nonapeptide oxytocin is released into systemic circulation in situations of psychosocial interaction, and has been shown to be involved in mechanisms of social bonding and social recognition in laboratory studies. In view of disturbances in psychosocial relationships being a triggering factor for depression and anxiety, it is interesting to note that experimental studies have shown oxytocin to possess antidepressant- and anxiolytic-like actions. Thus. in the present study we examined effects of the SSRI citalopram (20 mg/kg i.p.) on plasma oxytocin, acutely and upon repeated administration, in adult male Sprague-Dawley rats. Plasma oxytocin, and some functionally related peptides (CCK, gastrin, somatostatin and insulin), were measured by standard radioimmunoassay techniques. Acute citalopram administration produced a statistically significant increase in plasma oxytocin and CCK levels. Administration of citalopram for 14 days did not attenuate the oxytocin-releasing effect to a challenge dose of the SSRI zimeldine (20 mg/kg s.c.), whereas CCK levels were not increased after the subchronic citalopram treatment. Thus, the SSRI citalopram produces increased plasma oxytocin levels acutely, and there appears to be no or little tolerance to this effect upon repeated administration. There were no, or variable, effects on plasma levels of gastrin, somatostatin or insulin. It is suggested that oxytocin release is an important aspect of the pharmacological actions of SSRIs, and this could be an important contributory factor for the clinical profile of this group of antidepressants with particular efficacy in disorders of psychosocial origin.
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