Schizophrenia is often a severe and debilitating mental illness, frequently associated with impairments in social cognition that hinder individuals' abilities to relate to others and integrate effectively in society. Oxytocin has emerged as a putative therapeutic agent for treating social deficits in schizophrenia, but the mode of action remains unclear. This placebo-controlled crossover study aimed to elucidate the neural underpinnings of oxytocin administration in patients with schizophrenia. 20 patients with schizophrenia were examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging under oxytocin (40 IU) or placebo nasal spray. Participants performed a stochastically rewarded decision-making task that incorporated elements of social valence provided by different facial expressions, i.e. happy, angry and neutral. Oxytocin attenuated the normal bias in selecting the happy face accompanied by reduced activation in a network of brain regions that support mentalising, processing of facial emotion, salience, aversion, uncertainty and ambiguity in social stimuli, including amygdala, temporo-parietal junction, posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus and insula. These pro-social effects may contribute to the facilitation of social engagement and social interactions in patients with schizophrenia and warrant further investigation in future clinical trials for social cognitive impairments in schizophrenia.
- Social cognition