According to a study published in 2014, silencing of oxytocin receptor interneurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of female mice resulted in loss of social interest in male mice during the sexually receptive phase of the estrous cycle. Oxytocin evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security when in the company of the mate. This suggests oxytocin may be important for the inhibition of the brain regions associated with behavioral control, fear, and anxiety, thus allowing orgasm to occur. Research has also demonstrated that oxytocin can decrease anxiety and protect against stress, particularly in combination with social support.
General Information: Endogenous oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus and stored in the posterior pituitary. It stimulates contraction of uterine smooth muscle during gestation and causes milk ejection after milk has been produced in the breast. Oxytocin has been associated with mating, parental, and social behaviors. Oxytocin is released during intercourse in both men and women, which has led to the belief that it is involved in sexual bonding. There is speculation that in addition to facilitating lactation and the birthing process, the hormone facilitates the emotional bond between mother and child. Oxytocin has also been studied in autism and have some sort of relation to the social and developmental impairments associated with the disease. Clinically, oxytocin is used most often to induce and strengthen labor and control postpartum bleeding. Intranasal preparations of oxytocin, used to stimulate postpartum milk ejection, are no longer manufactured in the U.S. Oxytocin was approved by the FDA in 1962.
Mechanism of Action: Synthetic oxytocin elicits the same pharmacological response produced by endogenous oxytocin, with cervical dilation, parity, and gestational age as predictors of the dose response to oxytocin administration for labor stimulation. Oxytocin increases the sodium permeability of uterine myofibrils, indirectly stimulating contraction of the uterine smooth muscle. The uterus responds to oxytocin more readily in the presence of high estrogen concentrations and with the increased duration of pregnancy. There is a gradual increase in uterine response to oxytocin for 20 to 30 weeks gestation, followed by a plateau from 34 weeks of gestation until term, when sensitivity increases. Women who are in labor have a greater response to oxytocin compared to women who are not in labor; only very large doses will elicit contractions in early pregnancy. In the term uterus, contractions produced by exogenous oxytocin are similar to those that would occur during spontaneous labor. Oxytocin increases the amplitude and frequency of uterine contractions, which transiently impede uterine blood flow and decrease cervical activity, causing dilation and effacement of the cervix.
Oxytocin causes contraction of the myoepithelial cells surrounding the alveolar ducts of the of the breast. This forces milk from the alveolar channels into the larger sinuses, and thus facilitates milk ejection. While oxytocin possesses no galactopoietic properties, if it is absent the milk-ejection reflex in the breast fails.
Oxytocin causes dilation of vascular smooth muscle, thus increasing renal, coronary, and cerebral blood flow. Blood pressure usually remains unaffected, but with the administration of very large doses or high concentration solutions blood pressure may decrease transiently. This transient decrease in blood pressure leads to reflex tachycardia and an increase in cardiac output; any fall in blood pressure is usually followed by a small, but sustained, increase in blood pressure.
Oxytocin does possess antidiuretic effects, but they are minimal. If oxytocin is administered with an excessive volume of electrolyte-free IV solution and/or at too rapid a rate, the antidiuretic effects are more apparent and water intoxication can result.