BACKGROUND: Oxytocin (OXT) and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) are both produced in hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN). Central CRH may cause depression-like symptoms, while peripheral higher OXT plasma levels were proposed to be a trait marker for bipolar disorder (BD). We aimed to investigate differential OXT and CRH expression in the PVN and their receptors in prefrontal cortex of major depressive disorder (MDD) and BD patients. In addition, we investigated mood-related changes by stimulating PVN-OXT in mice.
METHODS: Quantitative immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization were performed in the PVN for OXT and CRH on 6 BD and 6 BD-controls, 9 MDD and 9 MDD-controls. mRNA expressions of their receptors (OXTR, CRHR1 and CRHR2) were determined in anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of 30 BD and 34 BD-controls, and 24 MDD and 12 MDD-controls. PVN of 41 OXT-cre mice was short- or long-term activated by chemogenetics, and mood-related behavior was compared with 26 controls.
FINDINGS: Significantly increased OXT-immunoreactivity (ir), OXT-mRNA in PVN and increased OXTR-mRNA in DLPFC, together with increased ratios of OXT-ir/CRH-ir and OXTR-mRNA/CRHR-mRNA were observed in BD, at least in male BD patients, but not in MDD patients. PVN-OXT stimulation induced depression-like behaviors in male mice, and mixed depression/mania-like behaviors in female mice in a time-dependent way.
INTERPRETATION: Increased PVN-OXT and DLPFC-OXTR expression are characteristic for BD, at least for male BD patients. Stimulation of PVN-OXT neurons induced mood changes in mice, in a pattern different from BD.
FUNDING: National Natural Science Foundation of China (81971268, 82101592).