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Neuroimaging oxytocin modulation of social reward learning in schizophrenia

Mouchlianitis, E., Tracy, D. K., Wigton, R. , Vanes, L., Fett, A-K. ORCID: 0000-0003-0282-273X & Shergill, S. (2022). Neuroimaging oxytocin modulation of social reward learning in schizophrenia. BJPsych Open, 8(5), article number e175. doi: 10.1192/bjo.2022.577


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.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: ©TheAuthor(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence ( licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: Oxytocin; psychosis; schizophrenia; fMRI; trust
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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