Oxytocin to Treat PTSD

2020-01-21 11:32:37 | BioPortfolio


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic, debilitating condition that disproportionately affects Veterans. Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy is a "gold standard" treatment for PTSD. However, approximately one-third of Veterans fail to receive an adequate dose of treatment because they prematurely drop out of PE therapy. There is also room to improve PE treatment outcomes. Consistent with the VA Office of Research and Development initiative to develop effective treatments for PTSD, the proposed randomized clinical trial will examine the ability of oxytocin (as compared with placebo) combined with PE to reduce PTSD symptom severity, improve the rate of PTSD symptom reduction, and to enhance PE treatment retention and adherence. This two-site study will leverage the investments made in the nationwide rollout off PE therapy and has the potential to significantly improve mental health care among Veterans, advance the science in this area, and identify mechanisms underlying positive PTSD treatment response.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most highly prevalent mental health disorder among U.S. military Veterans. PTSD is a chronic disorder that is associated with significant morbidity, mortality, disability, and costly health care expenditures. The clinical impairment associated with PTSD among Veterans is severe and associated with comorbid depression, suicidality, substance abuse, physical health problems, interpersonal violence, and neuropsychiatric impairment. Despite these pervasive health consequences, the current treatment services offered to Veterans do not adequately address PTSD. Several promising psychosocial interventions, including Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy, have been developed for the treatment of PTSD. Although PE is one of the most widely used evidence-based treatments for PTSD, there is substantial room for improvement in outcomes and retention rates. For example, approximately one-third of patients dropout of PE treatment prematurely, and the highest dropout rates occur among Veterans. Consistent with the VA Office of Research and Development initiative to develop effective treatments for PTSD, identifying pharmacotherapies to enhance PTSD treatment retention and outcomes is critical. Accumulating data from the investigators' group and others suggests that oxytocin is a promising candidate to achieve this goal. Oxytocin is known to promote prosocial behaviors associated with successful psychosocial treatment outcomes (e.g., trust, safety, social cognition) and has demonstrated positive effects on extinction learning in animal and human stress models. Furthermore, recent neuroimaging studies show that oxytocin has the ability to ameliorate dysregulation of the corticolimbic brain circuitry, which is a central component of the pathophysiology and maintenance of PTSD. In the only study to date examining the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy of augmenting PE with oxytocin, the investigators' group found that participants randomized to the oxytocin condition demonstrated lower PTSD and depression symptoms during PE, and had higher working alliance scores compared to participants randomized to the placebo condition. Therefore, the primary objective of the proposed two-site Phase II study is to examine the ability of oxytocin (vs. placebo) combined with PE therapy to (1) reduce PTSD symptom severity, (2) improve rate of PTSD symptom improvement, and (3) improve PE adherence and retention rates. To accomplish these objectives, the investigators will employ a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial and use standardized, repeated dependent measures of change at five time points (baseline, mid-treatment, end of treatment, and 3 and 6 month follow-up). The proposed study directly addresses the mission of the Veterans Health Administration Blueprint for Excellence in that it seeks to advance personalized and proactive mental health care opportunities for Veterans. Findings from this study will provide critical new information regarding the efficacy of oxytocin to augment psychosocial treatment for PTSD, as well as information regarding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying PTSD and positive treatment response.

Study Design




Oxytocin, Placebo


San Francisco VA Medical Center, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco
United States


Not yet recruiting


VA Office of Research and Development

Results (where available)

View Results


Published on BioPortfolio: 2020-01-21T11:32:37-0500

Clinical Trials [840 Associated Clinical Trials listed on BioPortfolio]

Prolonged Exposure and Oxytocin

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PubMed Articles [1230 Associated PubMed Articles listed on BioPortfolio]

Placebo effects in the neuroendocrine system: conditioning of the oxytocin responses.

Evidence exists that placebo effects may influence hormone secretion. However, only few studies examined placebo effects in the endocrine system, including oxytocin placebo effects. We studied whether...

Trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress disorder and oxytocin: A meta-analytic investigation of endogenous concentrations and receptor genotype.

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Effects of oxytocin administration on cue-induced craving in co-occurring alcohol use disorder and PTSD: a within-participant randomized clinical trial.

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Intranasal oxytocin reduces reactive aggression in men but not in women: A computational approach.

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Medical and Biotech [MESH] Definitions

Cell surface proteins that bind oxytocin with high affinity and trigger intracellular changes which influence the behavior of cells. Oxytocin receptors in the uterus and the mammary glands mediate the hormone's stimulation of contraction and milk ejection. The presence of oxytocin and oxytocin receptors in neurons of the brain probably reflects an additional role as a neurotransmitter.

A nonapeptide hormone released from the neurohypophysis (PITUITARY GLAND, POSTERIOR). It differs from VASOPRESSIN by two amino acids at residues 3 and 8. Oxytocin acts on SMOOTH MUSCLE CELLS, such as causing UTERINE CONTRACTIONS and MILK EJECTION.

Carrier proteins for OXYTOCIN and VASOPRESSIN. They are polypeptides of about 10-kDa, synthesized in the HYPOTHALAMUS. Neurophysin I is associated with oxytocin and neurophysin II is associated with vasopressin in their respective precursors and during transportation down the axons to the neurohypophysis (PITUITARY GLAND, POSTERIOR).

Misunderstanding among individuals, frequently research subjects, of scientific methods such as randomization and placebo controls.

An effect usually, but not necessarily, beneficial that is attributable to an expectation that the regimen will have an effect, i.e., the effect is due to the power of suggestion.

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