Original Article

Citation: Translational Psychiatry (2017) 7, e1099; doi:10.1038/tp.2017.72
Published online 18 April 2017

Intranasal oxytocin enhances intrinsic corticostriatal functional connectivity in women

R A I Bethlehem1,13, M V Lombardo1,2,13, M-C Lai1,3,4, B Auyeung1,5, S K Crockford1, J Deakin6,7, S Soubramanian6,8, A Sule6, P Kundu9,10, V Voon6,7,8,11 and S Baron-Cohen1,12

  1. 1Department of Psychiatry, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2Department of Psychology, Center for Applied Neuroscience, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus
  3. 3Department of Psychiatry, Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
  4. 4Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University Hospital and College of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan
  5. 5Department of Psychology, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  6. 6Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  7. 7Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK
  8. 8Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  9. 9Brain Imaging Center, Icahn Institute of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, New York, NY, USA
  10. 10Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute, Icahn Institute of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, New York, NY, USA
  11. 11National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Council, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  12. 12CLASS Clinic, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK

Correspondence: RAI Bethlehem, Department of Psychiatry, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18B Trumpington Road, Cambridge CB2 8AH, UK. E-mail: rb643@medschl.cam.ac.uk

13These two authors contributed equally to this work.

Received 12 December 2016; Revised 2 February 2017; Accepted 14 February 2017



Oxytocin may influence various human behaviors and the connectivity across subcortical and cortical networks. Previous oxytocin studies are male biased and often constrained by task-based inferences. Here, we investigate the impact of oxytocin on resting-state connectivity between subcortical and cortical networks in women. We collected resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data on 26 typically developing women 40min following intranasal oxytocin administration using a double-blind placebo-controlled crossover design. Independent components analysis (ICA) was applied to examine connectivity between networks. An independent analysis of oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene expression in human subcortical and cortical areas was carried out to determine plausibility of direct oxytocin effects on OXTR. In women, OXTR was highly expressed in striatal and other subcortical regions, but showed modest expression in cortical areas. Oxytocin increased connectivity between corticostriatal circuitry typically involved in reward, emotion, social communication, language and pain processing. This effect was 1.39 standard deviations above the null effect of no difference between oxytocin and placebo. This oxytocin-related effect on corticostriatal connectivity covaried with autistic traits, such that oxytocin-related increase in connectivity was stronger in individuals with higher autistic traits. In sum, oxytocin strengthened corticostriatal connectivity in women, particularly with cortical networks that are involved in social-communicative, motivational and affective processes. This effect may be important for future work on neurological and psychiatric conditions (for example, autism), particularly through highlighting how oxytocin may operate differently for subsets of individuals.