Intranasal application of hormone appears to enhance placebo response

October 22, 2013, The JAMA Network Journals

The hormone oxytocin may mediate processes such as empathy, trust, and social learning. These are key elements of the patient-physician relationship, which is an important mediator of placebo responses, according to background information in a Research Letter appearing in the October 23/30 issue of JAMA. Simon Kessner, of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany, and colleagues conducted a study to test whether oxytocin enhances the placebo response in an experimental placebo analgesia model.

Between January and September 2012, the researchers randomly assigned 80 healthy male volunteers to 40 IU of intranasal or saline. The researchers and participants were blinded to study drug identity. After 45 minutes, placebo analgesia was assessed using the following standard technique. Two identical inert ointments were applied to 2 sites on each participant's forearm. The ointments were described as an anesthetic that reduces pain (placebo) and an inert control cream (control). In the 15 minutes following application that the participant expected the anesthetic to take effect, the researchers calibrated the intensity at which a 20-second painful heat stimulus was perceived by each individual to rate as a 60 on a scale ranging from 0 (no pain) to 100 (unbearable pain). During the subsequent test phase, a series of 10 of those calibrated stimuli was applied to each of the 2 sites in randomized order. The primary outcome was the placebo analgesic response, defined as the reduction of perceived pain intensity on the placebo site compared with the control site in the oxytocin and saline groups.

Despite identical stimulation on both sites, the difference in pain ratings at the placebo and pain sites were greater in the oxytocin group than in the saline group due to lower ratings at the placebo site.

"To our knowledge, our study provides the first experimental evidence that responses can be pharmacologically enhanced by the application of intranasal oxytocin," the authors write. "Further studies are needed to replicate our findings in larger clinical populations, identify the underlying mechanisms, and explore moderating variables such as sex or aspects of patient-physician communication."

Explore further: Placebo effects of different therapies not identical

More information: DOI: 10.1001/jama.2013.277446

Related Stories

Placebo effects of different therapies not identical

July 31, 2013
Not all placebos are equal, and patients who respond to one placebo don't always respond to others, according to research published July 31 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Jian Kong from Massachusetts General Hospital, ...

Making the brain take notice of faces in autism

August 15, 2013
Difficulty in registering and responding to the facial expressions of other people is a hallmark of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Relatedly, functional imaging studies have shown that individuals with ASD display altered ...

Topical analgesic may provide pain-free 'skin glue' repair of cuts in children

July 29, 2013
More than 50% of children who were given a topical analgesic had no pain during wound repair with "skin glue," according to the results of a randomized controlled trial reported in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Anesthesia technique may reduce breast cancer recurrence and death

October 16, 2013
Breast cancer patients who received the combination of a nerve block with general anesthesia for their breast cancer surgery had less cancer recurrence and were three times less likely to die than those who received only ...

Hormone affects distance men keep from unknown women they find attractive

November 13, 2012
Men in committed relationships choose to keep a greater distance between themselves and an unknown woman they find attractive when given the hormone oxytocin, according to new research in the November 14 issue of The Journal ...

The placebo effect goes beyond humans, researchers find

November 28, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Rats and humans have at least one thing in common: They both react the same way to a placebo, according to a new University of Florida study.

Recommended for you

In most surgery patients, length of opioid prescription, number of refills spell highest risk for misuse

January 17, 2018
The possible link between physicians' opioid prescription patterns and subsequent abuse has occupied the attention of a nation in the throes of an opioid crisis looking for ways to stem what experts have dubbed an epidemic. ...

Patients receive most opioids at the doctor's office, not the ER

January 16, 2018
Around the country, state legislatures and hospitals have tightened emergency room prescribing guidelines for opioids to curb the addiction epidemic, but a new USC study shows that approach diverts attention from the main ...

FDA bans use of opioid-containing cough meds by kids

January 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Trying to put a dent in the ongoing opioid addiction crisis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday slapped strict new restrictions on the use of opioid-containing cold and cough products by kids.

Taking ibuprofen for long periods found to alter human testicular physiology

January 9, 2018
A team of researchers from Denmark and France has found that taking regular doses of the pain reliever ibuprofen over a long period of time can lead to a disorder in men called compensated hypogonadism. In their paper published ...

Nearly one-third of Canadians have used opioids: study

January 9, 2018
Nearly one in three Canadians (29 percent) have used "some form of opioids" in the past five years, according to data released Tuesday as widespread fentanyl overdoses continue to kill.

Growing opioid epidemic forcing more children into foster care

January 8, 2018
The opioid epidemic has become so severe it's considered a national public health emergency. Addiction to prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and morphine, has contributed to a dramatic rise in overdose deaths and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.