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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder triggered by experiencing a traumatic event. PTSD causes recurrent flashbacks of traumatic memories that lead to over-consolidation. Memory over-consolidation prevents extinction of emotional and physiological responses to the memory. Because individuals can respond differently to stress and frightening experiences, no measures are currently practiced to prevent PTSD. By studying the changes in the brain during PTSD and after stress, it can be hypothesized that treatments that regulated HPA axis activity may prevent PTSD symptoms if applied soon after stress. Risk of developing PTSD is associated with abnormal cortisol and norepinephrine levels and altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning after trauma. New research on how stress alters the HPA axis over time has opened up the opportunity to prevent PTSD in high-risk patients. Oxytocin has been shown to regulate the HPA axis by inhibiting amygdala activity and the fear response. Oxytocin may also reduce stress by increasing the benefit individuals receive from social support. After reviewing previous studies on oxytocin, PTSD, and the HPA axis, it was concluded that regulation of the HPA axis by oxytocin could prevent PTSD by inhibiting memory over-consolidation and by reducing physical damage to the brain caused by abnormal cortisol and norepinephrine levels. This neurotransmitter is suitable for pharmacological studies because oxytocin can reach the central nervous system safely and effectively through intranasal spray application with minimal side effects. Intranasal oxytocin’s anxiolytic qualities and ability to alter HPA axis function call for more research to evaluate its potential pharmacological applications. More research is needed on regulation of the HPA axis to prevent PTSD and the duration and dosage of oxytocin treatments necessary to achieve sufficient HPA regulation.

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Subject Major(s)

Psychology, Pharmacolgy


oxytocin, posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, norepinephrine, cortisol, prevention, HPA axis


Hormones, Hormone Substitutes, and Hormone Antagonists | Medical Pharmacology | Mental Disorders

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Mary Boyes


© The Author(s)

Use of Oxytocin as a Preventative Treatment for PTSD