Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Oxytocin May Augment Social-Cognition Training in Schizophrenia Patients


Oxytocin, a hormone known to influence a variety of emotional responses including attachment and social engagement, appears to be helpful as an adjunct to social-cognition training for some patients with schizophrenia, said Stephen Marder, M.D., of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience at UCLA yesterday at the International Congress on Schizophrenia Research in Orlando, Fla. 

Marder (pictured above at the conference) made his remarks during a symposium on “Pharmacological Approaches for Facilitating Non-Pharmacologic Treatments.” He outlined evidence for impairment in social cognition in schizophrenia and its relationship to poorer outcome, as well as studies indicating that training can improve social cognition and evidence for the efficacy of oxytocin in enhancing empathic accuracy and recognition of positive and negative social cues. Marder explained that social cognition consists of “lower level” cognitive skills—such as recognition of facial cues—and “higher order" skills such as the ability to make emotional inferences and recognize sarcasm, for instance. He then described studies at UCLA in which schizophrenia patients were administered oxytocin prior to receiving social-cognition training. The findings were intriguing: while the skills training was primarily useful for lower-level social skills, the oxytocin appeared to enhance the higher-level skills of drawing accurate inferences from social cues and empathic accuracy.

“We think if these findings are confirmed in larger trials they have important significance for pharmacologically augmenting cognitive training and may be useful in the treatment and outcome of some patients,” Marder said.

For more information about oxytocin and about cognitive training in schizophrenia see Psychiatric News here and here.  For detailed information about treatment of patients with schizophrenia, see Clinical Manual for Treatment of Schizophrenia from American Psychiatric Publishing.

(Image: Mark Moran/Psychiatric News)

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