Psychiatry

Dr. Hwang presents findings on Oxytocin research

UNMC Research Director Dr. Soonjo Hwang

UNMC Department of Psychiatry Research Director Dr. Soonjo Hwang presented his latest research findings on Oct. 10-11 at the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Second Annual Scientific Meeting at the Truhlsen Campus Events Center at UNMC.

The research project enrolled 24 adolescents with disruptive mood and behavior disorders. Dr. Hwang says irritability is a significant mental health issue in the pediatric population and occurs in children and adolescents with various psychiatric diagnoses. Dr. Hwang and his research team have been looking at the impact of Oxytocin on children and adolescents with severe levels of irritability/emotional dysregulation/and aggressive behavior.

Dr. Hwang said one of the established neurobiological mechanisms of irritability is increased activation in the amygdala and other neural areas responsible for the acute threat response system. Oxytocin is a hormone with a commonly suggested mechanism being a reduction of activation in this system, and therefore may be potentially a mechanism-based treatment option for irritability.

The study hypothesized that administration of intranasal oxytocin would be associated with improvement in levels of irritability as well as a decrease in the heightened response of the acute threat response system to emotional stimuli on functional MRI (fMRI ). Dr. Hwang also anticipated a positive correlation between the level of reduction in response of the acute threat response system observed on f MRI with improvement on irritability symptom profiles (rating scales measuring specific aspects of irritability, including reactive and proactive aggression and callous emotional trait).

The 24 adolescents were assigned to either placebo or Oxytocin for three weeks. Pre- and post-treatment irritability rating scales, f MRI and MEG scans were completed.
“Oxytocin intranasal administration can be a potentially clinically innovative and effective treatment modality for youths with significant levels of irritability; as a mechanism-based treatment modality,” Dr. Hwang said.

Dr. Hwang’s current study has lead him to submit an NIH U Grant proposal to study single-dose pharmacokinetics of intranasal Oxytocin and fMRI in 14-18 year olds with clinically significant irritability.

Department of Psychiatry Research Lead Brigette Vaughan and Research Assistant Arica Lerdahl as well as Boys Town National Research Hospital researchers Herma Meffert, Stuart White, Tony Wilson and James Blair are working with Dr. Hwang on the project.

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