A team of researchers from Ontario, Canada, have discovered that injecting a single dose of the neuropeptide oxytocin, which is normally produced in the hypothalamus region of the brain, can have a demonstrable effect on patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, according to a research study.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a “devastating, progressive, neurodegenerative disease for which there is presently no available cure,” the researchers wrote in the introduction of their research paper. Patients with the behavioral variant of FTD have difficultly functioning socially and reading emotional cues, often displaying indifference and even callousness toward close family members.
Researchers included 20 patients with FTD in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study, and had patients complete standard neuropsychological tests of memory, language, and executive functions. Patients also completed a Neuropsychiatric Inventory and a Frontal Behavioral Inventory.
Patients were randomly assigned to receive either a dose of oxytocin or a placebo. Twenty minutes after administration of either oxytocin or the placebo, patients attempted to complete a “battery of emotion validated processing tasks,” which included “Facial Expression Recognition and Intensity,” among others.
Results suggest that patients who were administered oxytocin have a reduced identification of expressions relating to anger and fear, along with some sub-items that were not statistically significant. According to one of the psychological models used by the researchers, diminished recognition of negative emotional expressions or “threat cues” can possibly reduce aggressive behavior.
This is in line with previous research concerning the administration of oxytocin on healthy adults, where administration of oxytocin was associated with increased cooperative behaviors, increased social processing, and increased empathy.
Researchers note that this study was the first in examining oxytocin effects on patients with FTD and that while the results do not warrant using oxytocin as a treatment yet, they are promising and should be followed up with more studies.
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