MUSC tests love hormone to treat depression

CHARLESTON –Oxytocin, a hormone produced by breast-feeding mothers and by men and women during sex could eventually be used as an anti-depressant, according to a study published earlier this month and led by a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Oxytocin, the so-called love drug, activated parts of the brain in depressed patients that normally are activated in healthy ones, the study showed.

After inhaling the hormone, “their brain activities started resembling our healthy subjects,” said Dr. Ziad Nahas, who lead the two-year study at MUSC.

Researchers took brain scans of 10 healthy people and 10 depressed people before and after administering oxytocin through a nasal spray. On a separate day, researchers took before-and-after-scans with a placebo. The participants did not know what they were getting.

In the depressed patients, oxytocin appeared to activate a part of the brain that detects nuance and deals with socialization, Nahas said. “Now, we want to study what happens if you can give someone oxytocin daily, like you would an anti-depressant.”