Intranasal oxytocin enhances intrinsic corticostriatal functional connectivity in women


Oxytocin may influence various human behaviors and the connectivity across subcortical and cortical networks. Previous oxytocin studies are male-biased and often constrained by task-based inferences. Here we investigate the impact of oxytocin on resting state connectivity between subcortical and cortical networks in women. We collected resting state fMRI data on 26 typically-developing women 40 minutes following intranasal oxytocin administration using a double-blind placebo-controlled crossover design. Independent components analysis (ICA) was applied to examine connectivity between networks. An independent analysis of oxytocin receptor ( OXTR ) gene expression in human subcortical and cortical areas was carried out to determine plausibility of direct oxytocin effects on OXTR . In women, OXTR was highly expressed in striatal and other subcortical regions, but showed modest expression in cortical areas. Oxytocin increased connectivity between corticostriatal circuitry typically involved in reward, emotion, social-communication, language, and pain processing. This effect was 1.39 standard deviations above the null effect of no difference between oxytocin and placebo. This oxytocin-related effect on corticostriatal connectivity covaried with autistic traits, such that oxytocin-related increase in connectivity was stronger in individuals with higher autistic traits. In sum, oxytocin strengthened corticostriatal connectivity in women, particularly with cortical networks that are involved in social-communicative, motivational, and affective processes. This effect may be important for future work on neurological and psychiatric conditions (e.g., autism), particularly through highlighting how oxytocin may operate differently for subsets of individuals.