Neuroimaging oxytocin modulation of social reward learning in schizophrenia

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Conventional pharmacological approaches have limited effectiveness for schizophrenia. There is interest in the application of oxytocin, which is involved in social cognition. Clinical trials have yielded mixed results, with a gap in understanding neural mechanisms. To evaluate the behavioural impact of oxytocin administration on a social learning task in individuals with schizophrenia, and elucidate any differential neural activity produced. We recruited 20 clinically stable right-handed men diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. In a double-blind cross-over randomised controlled study, 40 IU of oxytocin or placebo were administered before functional magnetic resonance imaging of participants playing a multi-round economic exchange game of trust. Participants had the role of investors (investment trials) receiving repayment on their investments (repayment trials), playing one session against a computer and a second against a player believed to be human. During investment trials, oxytocin increased neural signalling in the right lateral parietal cortex for both human and computer player trials, and attenuated signalling in the right insula for human player trials. For repayment trials, oxytocin elicited signal increases in left insula and left ventral caudate, and a signal decrease in right amygdala during the human player trials; conversely it resulted in right dorsal caudate activation during the computer player trials. We did not find a significant change in behavioural performance associated with oxytocin administration, or any associations with symptoms. During a social learning task oxytocin modulates cortical and limbic substrates of the reward-processing network. These perturbations can be putatively linked to the pathoaetiology of schizophrenia.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere175
JournalBJPsych Open
Issue number5
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Sept 2022


  • schizophrenia
  • psychosis
  • fMRI
  • trust
  • Oxytocin


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