Diminished plasma oxytocin in schizophrenic patients with neuroendocrine dysfunction and emotional deficits

Morris Goldman*, Megan Marlow-O'Connor, Ivan Torres, C. S. Carter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Scopus citations


Polydipsic hyponatremic schizophrenic patients (PHS) exhibit enhanced plasma arginine vasopressin (pAVP) and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis responses to stress that appear attributable to anterior hippocampal dysfunction. Neuroanatomic and electrophysiologic studies indicate oxytocin activity in PHS patients should also be affected. Furthermore, oxytocin normally diminishes HPA responses to stress and facilitates cognitive and behavioral functions impaired in schizophrenia, suggesting that diminished oxytocin activity could contribute to this subsets' neuropsychiatric disorder. In the present study, we measured plasma oxytocin levels at intervals before and after stress induction in six polydipsic hyponatremic (PHS), four polydipsic normonatremic (PNS), five nonpolydipsic normonatremic schizophrenic (NNS) patients and seven healthy controls. Most of these subjects also completed studies measuring their medial temporal lobe volumes, their hippocampal-mediated HPA feedback and their ability to discriminate different facial emotions (an oxytocin-sensitive measure which is markedly impaired in schizophrenia). Results demonstrated that 1) plasma oxytocin levels were lower (p = .006) in hyponatremic patients relative to the other three groups, whose levels were similar and did not change. Oxytocin levels across all subjects were 2) inversely correlated with anterior hippocampal (p = .004) (but not posterior hippocampal or amygdala volumes), and 3) directly correlated with the integrity of hippocampal-mediated HPA feedback (p = .039). Finally, 4) oxytocin levels predicted schizophrenic patients' ability to correctly identify facial emotions (p = .004). These preliminary data provide further evidence that neuroendocrine dysfunction in PHS reflects anterior hippocampal pathology and contributes to a characteristic neuropsychiatric syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-255
Number of pages9
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • HPA axis
  • Hippocampus
  • Hyponatremia
  • Polydipsia
  • Stress
  • Vasopressin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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