Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci.  2019 Feb;17(1):1-11. 10.9758/cpn.2019.17.1.1.

The Role of Intranasal Oxytocin in Anxiety and Depressive Disorders: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

  • 1Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.
  • 2Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Psychiatry Unit, University of Catania, Catania, Italy.


Several studies have demonstrated the neuromodulating function of oxytocin (OT) in response to anxiogenic stimuli as well as its potential role in the pathogenesis of depression. Consequently, intranasal OT (IN-OT) has been proposed as a potential treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders. The present systematic review aimed to summarize the randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating the effect of IN-OT on anxiety and depressive symptoms. Overall, 15 studies were included, involving patients with social anxiety disorders (7 studies), arachnophobia (1), major depression (3) or post-natal depression (4), and mainly evaluating single-dose administrations of IN-OT. Results showed no significant effects on core symptomatology. Five crossover studies included functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation: one trial showed reduced amygdala hyper-reactivity after IN-OT in subjects with anxiety, while another one showed enhanced connectivity between amygdala and bilateral insula and middle cingulate gyrus after IN-OT in patients but not in healthy controls. More studies are needed to confirm these results. In conclusion, up to date, evidence regarding the potential utility of IN-OT in treating anxiety and depression is still inconclusive. Further RCTs with larger samples and long-term administration of IN-OT are needed to better elucidate its potential efficacy alone or in association with standard care.


Oxytocin; Depression; Anxiety; Social behavior; Functional magnetic resonance imaging
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