A Spatiotemporal Profile of in vivo Cerebral Blood Flow Changes Following Intranasal Oxytocin in Humans

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Animal and human studies highlight the role of oxytocin in social cognition and behaviour and the potential of intranasal oxytocin (IN-OT) to treat social impairment in neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism. However, extensive efforts to evaluate its central actions and therapeutic efficacy may be marred by the absence of data regarding its temporal dynamics and sites of action in the living human brain.

In a placebo-controlled study, we used arterial spin labeling to measure IN-OT induced changes in resting regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in 32 healthy men. Volunteers were blinded regarding the nature of the compound they received. rCBF data were acquired 15min before and up to 78min following treatment onset (40IU of IN-OT or placebo). The data were analysed using mass-univariate and multivariate PR techniques.

We obtained robust evidence delineating an oxytocinergic network comprising regions expected to express oxytocin receptors, based on histological evidence, and including core regions of the brain circuitry underpinning social cognition and emotion processing. PR on rCBF maps indicated that IN-OT induced changes were sustained over the entire post-treatment observation interval (25-78min) and consistent with a pharmacodynamic profile showing a peak response at 39-51min.

Our study provides the first visualisation and quantification of IN-OT induced changes in rCBF in the living human brain unaffected by cognitive, affective, or social manipulations. Our findings can inform theoretical and mechanistic models regarding IN-OT effects on typical and atypical social behaviour and guide future experiments (e.g. regarding the timing of experimental manipulations).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693–705
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number8
Early online date18 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2016


  • oxytocin
  • intranasal
  • arterial spin labelling
  • cerebral blood flow
  • pharmacodynamics
  • resting state


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