Using Oxytocin for Hypersexual Disorder
Node Smith, ND
A new study of men and women with hypersexual disorder has revealed a possible role of the hormone oxytocin, according to results published in the journal Epigenetics. The finding could potentially open the door to treating the disorder by engineering a way to suppress its activity.
New study reveals possible role of oxytocin for treatment of those diagnosed with hypersexual disorder
Hypersexual disorder, or an overactive sex drive, is recognized as a compulsive sexual behavior disorder, listed as an impulse-control disorder by the World Health Organisation. It can be characterized by obsessive thoughts of sex, a compulsion to perform sexual acts, a loss of control, or sexual habits that carry potential problems or risks. While prevalence estimates vary, literature indicates that hypersexual disorder affects 3-6% of population.
Controversy surrounds diagnosis because it often occurs alongside other mental health issues, suggesting it could be an extension or manifestation of an existing mental disorder. Little is known about the neurobiology behind it.
“We set out to investigate the epigenetic regulatory mechanisms behind hypersexual disorder so we could determine whether it has any hallmarks that make it distinct from other health issues,” says lead author Adrian Boström from the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University, Sweden who conducted the study with researchers from the Andrology/Sexual Medicine Group (ANOVA) at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
“To our knowledge, our study is the first to implicate dysregulated epigenetic mechanisms of both DNA methylation and microRNA activity and the involvement of oxytocin in the brain among patients seeking treatment for hypersexuality.”
How the study was conducted
The scientists measured DNA methylation patterns in the blood from 60 patients with hypersexual disorder and compared them to samples from 33 healthy volunteers.
They investigated 8,852 regions of DNA methylation associated to nearby microRNAs to identify any variations between samples. DNA methylation can affect gene expression and the function of genes, typically acting to reduce their activity. Where changes in DNA methylation were detected, the researchers investigated levels of gene expression of the associated microRNA. MicroRNAs are particularly interesting as they can pass the blood-brain-barrier and modulate or degrade the expression of up to several hundred different genes in brain and other tissues.
They also compared their findings to samples from 107 subjects, 24 of whom were alcohol-dependent, to explore an association with addictive behavior.
Results of the study
Results identified two regions of DNA that were altered in hypersexual disorder patients. Normal function of DNA methylation was disrupted and an associated microRNA, involved in gene silencing, was found to be under-expressed. Analysis revealed that the microRNA identified, microRNA-4456, targets genes that are normally expressed at particularly high levels in the brain and that are involved in the regulation of the hormone oxytocin. With gene silencing reduced, oxytocin may be expected to be at elevated levels, although the current study does not confirm this.
What previous oxytocin studies have demonstrated
It has been seen in specific vole and primate species the neuropeptide oxytocin plays a central role in the regulation of pair-bonding behavior. Previous studies have demonstrated that oxytocin is associated with the regulation of social and pair-bonding, sexual reproduction and aggressive behavior in both men and women. The comparison with alcohol-dependent subjects revealed the same DNA region to be significantly under-methylated, suggesting that it may be primarily associated with the addictive components of hypersexual disorder, such as sex addiction, dysregulated sexual desire, compulsivity and impulsivity.
Further research will be needed to investigate the role of microRNA-4456 and oxytocin in hypersexual disorder, but our results suggest it could be worthwhile to examine the benefits of drug and psychotherapy to reduce the activity of oxytocin,” says professor Jussi Jokinen, Umeå University, Sweden.
Authors note the following
The authors note that a limitation of the study is that the mean difference in DNA methylation between hypersexual disorder patients and healthy volunteers was only around 2.6%, so the impact on physiological changes might be called into question. However, a growing body of evidence suggestions that just subtle methylation changes can have wide-ranging consequences for complex conditions such as depression or schizophrenia.
- Boström, A.E et al. (2019) Hypermethylation-associated downregulation of microRNA-4456 in hypersexual disorder with putative influence on oxytocin signalling: A DNA methylation analysis of miRNA genes. Epigenetics. doi.org/10.1080/15592294.2019.1656157.
Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and associate editor and continuing education director for NDNR. His mission is serving relationships that support the process of transformation, and that ultimately lead to healthier people, businesses and communities. His primary therapeutic tools include counselling, homeopathy, diet and the use of cold water combined with exercise. Node considers health to be a reflection of the relationships a person or a business has with themselves, with God and with those around them. In order to cure disease and to heal, these relationships must be specifically considered. Node has worked intimately with many groups and organizations within the naturopathic profession, and helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic Revitalization (ANR), which works to promote and facilitate experiential education in vitalism.