Oxytocin was discovered by Henry Dale in 1906 and synthesized in the early 50s by Vincent du Vigneaud and coworkers. It is secreted by axonal terminals in the neurohypophysis emanating from the neurosecretory neurons of the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus. This hormone similarly to others is secreted in a pulsatile way and, classically, in relation to labor (uterine contractility), lactation and to the maternal behaviour. After the initial identification of its role in labor induction and lactation it became clear that Oxytocin plays other very important roles in human life namely in the creation of bonds which gave this hormone the title of social hormone. First it became clear that it was responsible for the strong bonds between mother and child but in the recent years it was investigated in relation to other types of pair bonding, the development of monogamous relations, and even the relation between different species like between humans and dogs. Its role in sexual orgasm was also recognized. Its secretion can be influenced by a hug or a simple conversation when feelings of trust are present. Indeed, Oxytocin could be responsible for social behaviour as it facilitates the development of trust and empathy between individuals, strengthening relationships. This neuropeptide seems to facilitate security in human relations thus being supportive of positive social interactions. For all of these discoveries it became known as the love hormone. However other roles have also been attributed to Oxytocin: decreasing levels of stress, fear and pain, and also a sort of selective influence on memory (allowing the individual to keep some memories while eliminating others). The therapeutically potential of oxytocin has already started to be studied in diseases like autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia and depression. Lab tools like measurements of oxytocin in plasma, brain imaging (f-MRI/PET) and genetic/epigenetic assays bring new opportunities to explore the oxytocin pathway and will continue to help us to understand how to live a healthy life in a love ambience.
20 - 23 May 2017
European Society of Endocrinology