Chu, Hammock, Joiner (2020) Unextracted plasma oxytocin levels decrease following in-laboratory social exclusion in young adults with a suicide attempt history Journal of psychiatric research 121() 173-181
Social exclusion is associated with greater suicide risk and more needs to be known about the biological processes contributing to this association. Oxytocin, a neuropeptide that regulates social interactions, may protect against the negative effects of exclusion by motivating social engagement. Oxytocin levels and desire for social engagement increase when non-psychiatric controls experience acute social exclusion. However, among individuals with borderline personality disorder and chronic depression, oxytocin levels decrease following exclusion. Both of these psychiatric illnesses are associated with high rates of suicidal behavior. No research has examined changes in oxytocin following social exclusion among individuals at risk for suicide. This quasi-experimental study examined differences in oxytocin levels and perceptions of social connectedness following an in-laboratory, acute social exclusion task among (a) individuals with no depression or suicide attempt histories, (b) individuals with current depression symptoms, and (c) individuals with current depression symptoms and suicide attempt histories. Young adults (N = 100) completed self-report measures and provided blood samples before and after an acute social exclusion task (Cyberball). Oxytocin was quantified via enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Mixed-design ANCOVAs were used to evaluate changes in unextracted and extracted oxytocin levels, desire for emotional support, thwarted belongingness, and perceived burdensomeness. Among suicide attempters, unextracted oxytocin levels decreased and desire for emotional support did not significantly change following exclusion. Among depressed and healthy controls, desire for emotional support increased and unextracted oxytocin levels did not significantly change. No significant changes in extracted oxytocin levels, thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness emerged. Further research is needed to determine if dysregulated oxytocin-related processes biologically predispose individuals with suicide attempt histories to greater social disconnection and suicide risk. Copyright © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.