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Oxytocin Could Influence Genders Differently, Study

Update Date: Dec 06, 2015 04:25 PM EST

Oxytocin, or the "love hormone" that plays an important role in "intimacy and social bonding", may affect the different genders differently, according to University of California scientists in a study.

At times, it might even lead to anxiety. These results are underway even as clinical trials on the hormone's ability to treat "anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)" are being conducted.

Researchers gave doses of oxytocin to male and female mice with a nasal spray. They found that for male mice, it increased the motivation for social interaction under stress, which confirmed what had been presumed earlier.

However, it had no effect on female mice under stress, which was surprising. For non-stressed female mice, it in fact brought down social motivation, which can be like social stress.

"Reduced social motivation can be part of a depression-like syndrome," Brian Trainor, co-author of the study, said in a press release.

While studying the effect of oxytocin on the brains of men and women, Trainor's team found stress influences the production of oxytocin nerve cells in the brain. It actually generates more oxytocin in females than males after stress, and such cells also become more active in women who are going through stress.

"This may help explain why oxytocin nasal spray makes females avoid social contact even though they did not experience social stress," said Michael Steinman,co-author of the study.

Moreover, the effects are also dependent on the environment. The chemical had "an inhibitory effect" on behaviour related to stress in mice, who were tested in their own cages, as opposed to those out in the environment.

The studies can also be used to examine the effect of oxytocin in both genders and how it can help them to deal with difficult situations or mental disorders. Women affected by depression or PTSD seem to have increased oxytocin levels, which is why they seek more help than men.

"Our results show that stressed females have both reduced social motivation and increased oxytocin. It's possible that oxytocin might contribute to a depression-like syndrome in females," said Trainor. "If correct, inhibiting oxytocin action might have unanticipated benefits."

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