Low levels of brain oxytocin linked to increased risk of suicide attempt

Published 2011-08-18 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:29

[NEWS, 18 August 2011] Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have shown that low levels the hormone oxytocin is associated with severity of suicidal behavior. Suicide attempters with the highest intent to die had the lowest levels of brain oxytocin. The discovery may lead to a better understanding and improved treatment of suicide attempters.

Jussi JokinenPhoto: Ola Olén

Oxytocin is a so called neuropeptide that is secreted in the body during massage, childbirth and breastfeeding to induce a calming, analgesic effect. Animal studies have also shown that oxytocin promotes social interaction and attenuates activation of the stress system. In a new study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers at the Karolinska Institutet show that low cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood plasma oxytocin were associated with serious, well planned suicide attempts with a stronger intent to die.

28 suicide attempters and 19 healthy volunteers participated in the study. Suicide intent was measured with two scales. Suicide attempters had a tendency to lower CSF oxytocin levels compared to healthy volunteers. The suicide attempters with the most serious and planned attempts had the lowest oxytocin levels in both CSF and plasma. The association was stronger in males compared to females. There was a strong correlation between low levels of oxytocin and high level of planning with low chance to be discovered or to be interrupted during the suicide attempt.

"Intranasally administered oxytocin can reduce anxiety and improve social contact in people with certain types of psychiatric disorder", says Dr Jussi Jokinen, researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience. "As far as we know, no such treatment studies have included suicide attempters. We should see this as an opportunity for new forms of treatment."


Jussi Jokinen Andreas Chatzittofis, Christer Hellström, Peter Nordström, Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg, Marie Åsberg

Low CSF Oxytocin reflects high intent in suicide attempters

Psychoneuroendocrinology, online ahead of print 17 August 2011

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