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Impaired social functioning and autistic symptoms are characteristics of schizophrenia. The social hormones oxytocin (OT) and arginine-vasopressin (AVP) both modulate social interaction and therefore may be involved in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. We investigated whether men with schizophrenia show altered OT and AVP levels compared with healthy controls (HC) and whether autism symptoms are associated with OT levels.
Forty-one men with non-acute schizophrenia and 45 matched HC were enroled. Schizophrenia was assessed with the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). Blood samples were collected on 2 days, and plasma OT and AVP levels were measured by ELISA immunoassay.
The schizophrenia patients had significantly lower plasma OT levels than the HC; a similar trend was found for AVP. Plasma OT levels were associated with severe life events, fewer important attached persons, and a higher score on the PANSS negative scale; the most dominant PANSS items were ‘preoccupation’, ‘emotional withdrawal’, and ‘passive/apathetic social withdrawal’.
These findings support an association between the social hormones OT and AVP and schizophrenia. We suggest that OT metabolism may be altered in schizophrenia, but other possible causes for decreased plasma OT levels in schizophrenia patients include decreased OT synthesis, mRNA expression, and translation. Especially the ‘autistic’ symptoms of schizophrenia seem to be closely linked to an altered metabolism of OT, the ‘attachment’ hormone.
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