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Lower CSF oxytocin concentrations in women with a history of childhood abuse


Early-life disruption of the parent–child relationship, for example, in the form of abuse, neglect or loss, dramatically increases risk for psychiatric, as well as certain medical, 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. We therefore examined central nervous system OT activity after early-life adversity in adult women. We measured OT concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collected from 22 medically healthy women, aged 18–45 years, categorized into those with none–mild versus those with moderate–severe exposure to various forms of childhood abuse or neglect. Exposure to maltreatment was associated with decreased CSF OT concentrations. A particularly strong effect was identified for emotional abuse. There were inverse associations between CSF OT concentrations and the number of exposure categories, the severity and duration of the abuse and current anxiety ratings. If replicated, the association of lower adult CSF OT levels with childhood trauma might indicate that alterations in central OT function may be involved in the adverse outcomes of childhood adversity.

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This study was supported by NIH MH-58922, MH-56539, MH-64692 and M01-RR00039 as well as NSF IBN-9876754 and RR00165.

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Correspondence to C Heim.

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Christine Heim: Dr. Heim has received research support from National Institutes of Health, National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, Anxiety Disorders Association of America, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Novartis, Eli Lilly, Centers for Disease Control, and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. She has served on speakers’ bureaus and/or received honoraria Forest Laboratories, Wyeth, and Bristol-Myers-Squibb.

Larry Young: Dr. Young has received research support from the National Institute of Health, Autism Speaks, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and the National Science Foundation funded Center for Behavioral Neuroscience.

D. Jeffrey Newport: Dr. Newport has received research support from Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Janssen, National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, National Institutes of Health, and Wyeth. He has served on speakers’ bureaus and/or received honoraria from Astra-Zeneca, Eli Lilly, GSK, Pfizer and Wyeth. He has served on advisory boards for GSK.

Tanja Mletzko: None.

Andrew H. Miller: Dr. Miller has served as a consultant for Schering-Plough, Astra Zeneca and Centocor, and has received research support from Schering-Plough, Centocor, and GlaxoSmithKline.

Charles B. Nemeroff: In the past 4 years, Dr. Nemeroff consulted to, served on the Speakers’ Bureau and/or Board of Directors, has been a grant recipient, and/or owned equity in one or more of the following: Abbott Laboratories, Acadia Pharmaceuticals, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), American Psychiatric Institute for Research and Educations (APIRE), AstraZeneca, BMC-JR LLC, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, CeNeRx, Corcept, Cypress Biosciences, Cyberonics, Eli Lilly, Entrepreneur's Fund, Forest Laboratories, George West Mental Health Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, i3 DLN, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Lundbeck, National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), Neuronetics, NIMH, NFMH, NovaDel Pharma, Otsuka, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Quintiles, Reevax, UCB Pharma, Wyeth-Ayerst. Currently, he serves on the scientific advisory boards of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; AstraZeneca; NARSAD; Quintiles; Janssen/Ortho-McNeil, and PharmaNeuroboost. He holds stock/equity in Corcept; Revaax; NovaDel Pharma; CeNeRx, and PharmaNeuroboost. He is on the board of directors of the AFSP; George West Mental Health Foundation; NovaDel Pharma, and Mt. Cook Pharma, Inc. Dr. Nemeroff holds a patent on the method and devices for transdermal delivery of lithium (US 6,375,990 B1) and the method to estimate serotonin and norepinephrine transporter occupancy after drug treatment using patient or animal serum (provisional filing April, 2001).

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Heim, C., Young, L., Newport, D. et al. Lower CSF oxytocin concentrations in women with a history of childhood abuse. Mol Psychiatry 14, 954–958 (2009).

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  • stress
  • trauma
  • development
  • oxytocin
  • anxiety
  • depression

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