ISTSS Online Learning Library

Promoting the advancement and exchange of knowledge about traumatic stress is a core mission of ISTSS. Our online learning library contains video and audio recordings of conference presentations and recordings of past webinars.

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The Role of Oxytocin in Traumatic Stress

Miranda Olff, PhD, Sue Carter, PhD, Blaise Pierrehumbert, PhD and Jennifer Bartz, PhD
1.5 credits
ConferenceAudioEligible for the Advanced Training Certificate Program

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Early adverse experience dramatically increases the risk for psychiatric disorders in adulthood. The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) plays a seminal role in mediating social affiliation, attachment, social support, maternal behavior, and trust, as well as protection against stress and anxiety. In this study of an urban community sample, 906 participants were assessed for history of childhood abuse, other trauma exposure, treatment for depression and anxiety disorders, suicide attempts, and current depression and PTSD symptoms. Resilience was defined as the absence of depression, PTSD, prior suicide attempts, and lifetime treatment for depression or anxiety disorders, despite a history of trauma exposure. Of the 906 individuals assessed, 595 met criteria for resilience (n=238) or nonresilience (n=357). We did not find a direct association between oxytocin receptor (OTR) genetic polymorphisms (SNPs) and resilience. However, SNP rs53576 interacted with childhood abuse (p=0.0004) and developmental family environment (p=0.016) in mediating resilience. Specifically, rs53576 GG carriers were associated with resilience among individuals not exposed to prior childhood abuse but were associated with nonresilience among individuals exposed to childhood abuse. OTR rs53576 GG individuals appear to be more susceptible to adverse effects of childhood abuse but also more responsive to the beneficial effect of nurturing family environment than AA/AG individuals. Our results are consistent with other studies examining the rs53576 SNP, in which AA/AG carriers were more associated with autism-spectrum phenotypes, and GG carriers were associated with empathy and parental sensitivity. These findings, while awaiting replication, have important implications in treatment and prevention strategies for at-risk individuals and add to our knowledge of neurobiological mechanisms underpinning resilience.

Learing Objectives

  • Recognize how the oxytocin system is of relevance for a number of psychiatric disorders.

  • Describe the relation between (childhood) stress and the oxytocin response.

  • Apply potential application of oxytocin in PTSD.