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Impact of intranasal oxytocin on interoceptive accuracy in alcohol users: An attentional mechanism?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Sophie Betka, Cassandra Gould Van Praag, Yannis Paloyelis, Rod Bond, Gaby Pfeifer, Henrique Sequeira, Theodora Duka, Hugo Critchley

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-448
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number4
Early online date28 Mar 2018
Accepted/In press19 Mar 2018
E-pub ahead of print28 Mar 2018
Published1 Apr 2018

King's Authors


Interoception, i.e. the perception and appraisal of internal bodily signals, is related to the phenomenon of craving, and is reportedly disrupted in alcohol use disorders. The hormone oxytocin influences afferent transmission of bodily signals and, through its potential modulation of craving, is proposed as a possible treatment for alcohol use disorders. However, oxytocin's impact on interoception in alcohol users remains unknown. Healthy alcohol users (n = 32) attended two laboratory sessions to perform tests of interoceptive ability (heartbeat tracking: attending to internal signals and, heartbeat discrimination: integrating internal and external signals) after intranasal administration of oxytocin or placebo. Effects of interoceptive accuracy, oxytocin administration and alcohol intake, were tested using mixed-effects models. On the tracking task, oxytocin reduced interoceptive accuracy, but did not interact with alcohol consumption. On the discrimination task, we found an interaction between oxytocin administration and alcohol intake: Oxytocin, compared with placebo, increased interoceptive accuracy in heavy drinkers, but not in light social drinkers. Our study does not suggest a pure interoceptive impairment in alcohol users but instead potentially highlights reduced flexibility of internal and external attentional resource allocation. Importantly, this impairment seems to be mitigated by oxytocin. This attentional hypothesis needs to be explicitly tested in future research.

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