Adults with hypopituitarism or cranial diabetes insipidus performed worse on empathy tasks vs. healthy controls, an indicator of reduced oxytocin levels, according to study findings presented at the Society for Endocrinology Annual Conference.
“This is the first study which looks at low oxytocin as a result of medical, as opposed to psychological, disorders,” Katie Daughters, PhD, a research assistant at the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute at the University of Cardiff, United Kingdom, said in a press release. “If replicated, the results from our patient groups suggest it is also important to consider medical conditions carrying a risk for low oxytocin levels.”
Daughters and colleagues analyzed data from 35 adults with either cranial diabetes insipidus (n = 20; eight men) or isolated anterior hypopituitarism (n = 15; six men) along with 20 healthy controls (seven men) who provided saliva samples to analyze oxytocin levels before and after performing two empathy tests (mean age of cohort, 47 years). Tests included the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test and the Facial Expression Recognition task.
Researchers found that patients with either diabetes insipidus or hypopituitarism had reduced oxytocin levels (mean levels, 86.1 pg/mL and 86.6 pg/mL, respectively) vs. health controls (mean level, 131.5 pg/mL), but the level did not reach significance. In addition, patients with diabetes insipidus and hypopituitarism performed worse than controls on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (P = .007). In regression analysis, researchers found that patients’ oxytocin levels predicted their task performance (P = .025). Patients with diabetes insipidus or hypopituitarism also performed worse than controls on the Facial Expression Recognition task (P = .004).
The researchers noted that oxytocin replacement therapy may serve as a therapeutic approach to improve psychological well-being in patients with hypopituitarism.
“If replicated, our findings suggest that patients who undergo pituitary surgery should be informed that they may experience a disruption in their oxytocin production, and that while this has no impact on their medical treatment, it may impact their emotional behavior and, therefore, psychological well-being,” Daughters told Endocrine Today. “We intend to run a larger replication of this study and an oxytocin intervention trial in hypopituitary patients to see if this rescues their emotion processing deficits.” – by Regina Schaffer
Daughters K, et al. Abstract #142. Presented at: Society for Endocrinology Annual Conference; Nov. 7-9, 2016; Brighton, United Kingdom.
Disclosure: Daughters reports no relevant financial disclosures.