Learning about oxytocin: Pharmacologic and behavioral issues

Bice Chini, Marianna Leonzino, Daniela Braida, Mariaelvina Sala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the accumulating evidence suggesting that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) plays a role in neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by social dysfunction, the influence of OT on the nonsocial aspects of learning and memory have been less investigated. To foster research in this area, we review the effects of OT on learning and memory in animal models and humans. In healthy animal models, OT improves memory consolidation and extinction, but only if given at a low dose immediately after the acquisition phase. On the contrary, OT effects in healthy humans have been inconsistent; although, in this case, OT was always given before the acquisition phase and no dose-response curves have ever been drawn up. Interestingly, a specific impairment in the reversal of learning has been found in mice devoid of OT receptors and OT has been demonstrated to enhance fear extinction in rodents. All together, these data suggest that OT plays a role in elementary forms of behavioral flexibility and adaptive responses and support its therapeutic potential in neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by cognitive inflexibility and/or impairment (autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson disease, stroke, posttraumatic stress disorder). Accordingly, OT has been shown to improve cognitive flexibility in OT receptor-deficient mice, and scattered findings indicate that intranasal OT has positive effects on the memory of patients with schizophrenia or posttraumatic stress disorders. Further studies of the therapeutic potential of OT as an enhancer of learning and memory are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-366
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2014


  • Animal models
  • consolidation
  • flexibility
  • learning and memory
  • neuropeptide
  • neuropsychiatric disorders
  • oxytocin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Medicine(all)


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