Background: Child maltreatment (CM) and attachment experiences are closely linked to alterations in the human oxytocin (OXT) system. However, human data about oxytocin receptor (OXTR) protein levels are lacking. Therefore, we investigated oxytocin receptor (OXTR) protein levels in circulating immune cells and related them to circulating levels of OXT in peripheral blood. We hypothesized reduced OXTR protein levels, associated with both, experiences of CM and an insecure attachment representation. Methods: OXTR protein expressions were analyzed by western blot analyses in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and plasma OXT levels were determined by radioimmunoassay (RIA) in 49 mothers. We used the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) to assess adverse childhood experiences. Attachment representations (secure vs. insecure) were classified using the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP) and levels of anxiety and depression were assessed with the German version of the Hospital Depression and Anxiety scale (HADS-D). Results: CM-affected women showed significantly lower OXTR protein expression with significantly negative correlations between the OXTR protein expression and the CTQ sum score, whereas plasma OXT levels showed no significant differences in association with CM. Lower OXTR protein expression in PBMC were particularly pronounced in the group of insecurely attached mothers compared to the securely attached group. Anxiety levels were significantly higher in CM-affected women. Conclusion: This study demonstrated a significant association between CM and an alteration of OXTR protein expression in human blood cells as a sign for chronic, long-lasting alterations in this attachment-related neurobiological system.
S., K., C., B., AM., G., E., R., K., S., A., K., … C., W. (2018). Child Maltreatment Is Associated with a Reduction of the Oxytocin Receptor in Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(PG-173), 173. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00173