THE TALK: Oxytocin and human aging: Brain-behavioral evidence of benefits on cognitive and socioemotional functioning
November 21, 2019
The oxytocin (OT) system is involved in various aspects of social cognition and prosocial behavior. Specifically, OT has been examined in the context of social memory, emotion recognition, cooperation, trust, and bonding, and─though evidence is somewhat mixed─OT appears to benefit aspects of cognition and socioemotional functioning. However, most of the extant data on aging and OT is from animal research and human OT research has focused largely on young male adults. As such, though we know that various cognitive and socioemotional capacities change with age, we know little about whether changes in the OT system with age underlie age-related differences in cognition and socioemotional functioning. Also, effects of gender are still largely unaddressed in this field. Based on our Age-Related Genetic, Neurobiological, Sociobehavioral Model of Oxytocin (AGeNeS-OT model), we examine age-related changes in the OT system and effects of these alterations on cognition and socioemotional functioning, considering hormonal, neural, behavioral, and (epi)genetic data in young and older women and men. Our results suggest a role of peripheral levels of OT on adult attachment and cognitive function. In addition, findings from a single-dose intranasal intervention study propose an age-by-gender modulatory effect of OT on resting-state functional connectivity between amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex as well as on meta-mood. Furthermore, data from our 4-week intranasal OT intervention provide first evidence of amygdala, hippocampus, and putamen as key targets of OT’s neuroplastic potential on the human brain and suggest that chronic OT administration may constitute a potential treatment in counteracting cognitive decline in aging. Preliminary data also support a possible role of OT in chronic pain, and effects of OT administration on physical functioning in aging will be addressed. The talk concludes with a brief discussion of the broader translational potential of this line of research.
Dr. Ebner is an expert in experimental aging research using a multi-methods approach that includes self-report, cognitive-behavioral measures, neuroimaging techniques, and hormone/neuropeptide markers. As a pre- and postdoctoral fellow at the Free University Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, she has supervised behavioral research on emotion-cognition interactions across adulthood. As a postdoctoral fellow and later as Associate Research Scientist at Yale University and as faculty at University of Florida (UF), she has expanded her research to examine neuropsychological changes associated with cognition-emotion interactions across adulthood using neuroimaging and eye-tracking as well as pharmacological, neurofeedback-based training, and field-experimental interventions. In addition to her primary appointment in the Department of Psychology at UF, she holds a joint appointment as faculty in the Florida Institute for Cyber Security Research (FICS) and she is affiliated with the Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory (CAM), the Institute on Aging (IoA), the McKnight Brain Institute (MBI), the Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence (PRICE), and the Center for Addiction Research and Education on campus.
Dr. Ebner has received multiple awards, such as the Young Research Scientist Award from the German Psychological Association, the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course Outstanding Alumni Award, the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences International Educator of the Year Award, and the UF Research Foundation Professorship Award. Since 2015, she is a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. Her body of work is documented in over 60 peer-reviewed publications and her research has been continually funded through NIH and NSF as well as other national and international funding agencies.
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