Whether stimulation of the serotonergic 5HT1A receptor can become a safe and clinically convenient way to increase oxytocin function in the brain


  • Dr Mark Tricklebank

    King's College London

Project summary

Oxytocin is known for its ability to enhance social behaviour in both animals and humans. Intranasal administration of oxytocin has been found to help people with schizophrenia, autism or people with social anxiety to correctly perceive the social cues that indicate appropriate social engagement. While intranasal sprays are an acceptable form of oxytocin administration with rapid brain uptake, it can be difficult to ensure accurate delivery of the intended dose.

We will examine the possibility of pharmacologically inducing the sustained secretion of oxytocin by an indirect mechanism that is amenable to long-term exposure using oral administration. I propose that this could be achieved indirectly by pharmacological stimulation of the brain’s 5-hydroxytryptamine 1A receptor. 5-HT1A agonists have been available for some time but those that are commercially available such as buspirone are not sufficiently powerful at the receptor to enhance oxytocin release. We will evaluate two new compounds that are in development for the treatment of depression (vortioxetine) and female sexual dysfunction (flibanserin) which both have high affinity and efficacy at 5-HT1A receptors.

Our findings could improve the administration of oxytocin to people who have difficulty with social engagement.