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  Oxytocin facilitates the extinction of conditioned fear in humans

Eckstein, M., Becker, B., Scheele, D., Scholz, C., Preckel, K., Schlaepfer, T. E., et al. (2015). Oxytocin facilitates the extinction of conditioned fear in humans. Biological Psychiatry, 78(3), 194-202. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.10.015.

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Eckstein, Monika1, 2, Author
Becker, Benjamin1, 2, Author
Scheele, Dirk1, 2, Author
Scholz, Claudia1, 2, Author
Preckel, Katrin1, 2, Author              
Schlaepfer, Thomas E.1, 3, Author
Grinevich, Valery4, Author
Kendrick, Keith M.5, Author
Maier, Wolfgang1, 6, Author
Hurlemann, René1, 2, Author
1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Bonn, Germany, ou_persistent22              
2Department of Psychology, University Bonn, Germany, ou_persistent22              
3Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA, ou_persistent22              
4German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg, Germany, ou_persistent22              
5Key Laboratory for Neuroinformation, School of Life Science & Technology, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu, China, ou_persistent22              
6German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Bonn, Germany, ou_persistent22              


Free keywords: Fear extinction; fMRI; Oxytocin; Psychophysiology; Skin conductance
 Abstract: Background Current neurocircuitry models of anxiety disorders posit a lack of inhibitory tone in the amygdala during acquisition of Pavlovian fear responses and deficient encoding of extinction responses in amygdala–medial prefrontal cortex circuits. Competition between these two responses often results in a return of fear, limiting control over anxiety. However, one hypothesis holds that a pharmacologic strategy aimed at reducing amygdala activity while simultaneously augmenting medial prefrontal cortex function could facilitate the extinction of conditioned fear. Methods Key among the endogenous inhibitors of amygdala activity in response to social fear signals is the hypothalamic peptide oxytocin. To address the question whether oxytocin can strengthen Pavlovian extinction beyond its role in controlling social fear, we conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment with 62 healthy male participants in a randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled design. Specifically, subjects were exposed to a Pavlovian fear conditioning paradigm before receiving an intranasal dose (24 IU) of synthetic oxytocin or placebo. Results Oxytocin, when administered intranasally after Pavlovian fear conditioning, was found to increase electrodermal responses and prefrontal cortex signals to conditioned fear in the early phase of extinction and to enhance the decline of skin conductance responses in the late phase of extinction. Oxytocin also evoked an unspecific inhibition of amygdalar responses in both phases. Conclusions Collectively, our findings identify oxytocin as a differentially acting modulator of neural hubs involved in Pavlovian extinction. This specific profile of oxytocin action may open up new avenues for enhancing extinction-based therapies for anxiety disorders.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2015-08-01
 Publication Status: Published in print
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: Peer
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.10.015
PMID: 25542304
Other: Epub 2014
 Degree: -



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Title: Biological Psychiatry
  Other : Biol. Psychiatry
Source Genre: Journal
Publ. Info: New York : Elsevier
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 78 (3) Sequence Number: - Start / End Page: 194 - 202 Identifier: ISSN: 0006-3223
CoNE: https://pure.mpg.de/cone/journals/resource/954925384111