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Publié le November 14, 2018 | Updated on December 20, 2018

Neural mechanisms of oxytocin and serotonin interaction in NHP and patients with autism?

Arthur LEFVERE - Under the supervision of Angela Sirigu.

The neurohormone oxytocin (OT) is increasingly studied for its therapeutic potential in social disorders, like autism, which are associated with the deregulation of several neurotransmission systems, including OT and serotonin (5-HT). Hence investigating OT’s interactions with other neurotransmitters is a relevant step towards mechanism-based treatments. Studies in rodents demonstrated that the interaction between OT and 5-HT, is critical for several aspects of social behaviour. Moreover, using PET-scan in humans we have recently found that 5-HT 1A receptor (5-HT1AR) function is modified after intra-nasal oxytocin intake. Thus I performed a first experiment in which intra-nasal OT was administered to patients with autism undergoing a [18F]MPPF (a 5-HT1AR radiotracer) PET scanner, in order to study their basal serotonergic system and to look if the oxytocin modulates the 5-HT1AR system. I found no differences of baseline 5-HT1AR concentration between 18 autistic subjects and 24 controls. Critically, in patients, OT did not induce changes on the 5-HT1AR system. Moreover, in controls, there was a correlation between 5-HT1AR and grey matter volume in the striatum, that was not observed in patients. These results suggest a subtle disruption of patients’ serotonergic system, that can only be seen at the functional level. Because PET scan does not tell us if the observed modification is due to a change in 5-HT1AR or 5-HT concentration, I performed a second PET scan experiment on 3 macaque monkeys, using [18F]MPPF and [11C]DASB, that marks the serotonin transporter. Compared to placebo, OT injections in the lateral ventricle significantly reduced [11C]DASB binding potential in right amygdala, insula and hippocampus whereas [18F]MPPF binding potential increased in right amygdala and insula. Thus we reproduced results obtained in healthy humans and extended it by suggesting that OT provokes the release of 5-HT in key limbic regions involved in socio-emotional processing. These results were confirmed with autoradiography.Taken together, these experiments indicate that OT modulates 5-HT release in primates, but this mechanism is disrupted in patients with autism. This opens ways to investigate combined OT/5-HT treatments, especially since FDA approved drugs targeting the two systems are already available for use in patients with autism