By Debbie Gregory.
Hormone and gene therapies for anxiety and PTSD could be on the way. Oxytocin, often called the love hormone due to its crucial role in mother-child relationships, social bonding, and intimacy, may enhance compassion of people suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)
Compassion is an outcome of emotional of empathy, and is mediated through different areas of the brain. The difficulty in the ability to feel compassion may be due to problems in the ability to identify, understand, and empathize with the other’s state of distress, i.e., difficulties in emotional and cognitive empathy.
A recent study found that a single intra-nasal dose of Oxytocin enhances compassion, both in patients with PTSD and in healthy participants – but only toward women, while it does not affect compassion toward men. From an evolutionary perspective one of the Oxytocin roles is to moderate pro-social behaviors, including compassion, mainly toward the survival of weaker and vulnerable individuals within groups, including females, pregnant females and offspring, who cannot defend themselves in nature, in light of the stress.
Scientists are also studying a number of other promising approaches to reducing fear, including treatments based on an improved genetic understanding of fear and anxiety. The gene encoding for a compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) could be particularly important.
The prospect of BDNF gene therapy is also being investigated.
“BDNF provides some of the most powerful effects that I’ve ever seen in enhancing fear extinction,” said Raül Andero Galí, a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University. He added, ““BDNF provides some of the most powerful effects that I’ve ever seen in enhancing fear extinction.”
While prescription BDNF isn’t on the immediate horizon, treating anxiety and PTSD with a combination of oxytocin and fear extinction therapy seems to be a promising option.