Monday, February 4, 2013

Oxytocin and Grandparent Attachment

I a previous post I summarized a review of the emerging research field of oxytocin and human attachment.

This research supports a key role for oxytocin in reproduction and parental infant bonding.   The above mentioned review emphasized the important role of gender, genetic and early environment in the effect individual human variation in oxytocin response.

One additionally related important research topic relates to the effect of ageing on oxytocin-related systems.  Huffmeijer and colleagues from Leidenand Eramus University recently published a review on this topic in the journal Gerontology.

The authors of this review note the importance of oxytocin in parent-infant bonding and argue by extension this system is probably important in grandparent-grandchild bonding.

However, the review notes there is a paucity of research focusing on the age-related effects on the human oxytocin system.  There is extensive data linking oxytocin with prosocial maternal and paternal behavior towards infants.  There is no research examining the role of the oxytocin system in grandparents.

The limited study of the animal human oxytocin system and ageing points to a few key findings:
  • Animal studies support a decreased level of oxytonergic activity with age--the results in humans on this area have been mixed
  • Older animals with reduced oxytocin activity still have a prosocial response to exogenously administered oxytocin
  • The brain amygdala-limbic system has rich neural connections with oxytocin-related neurons but  amygdala volumes decline with age (this effect is more pronounced in Alzheimer's disease)
  • With ageing, amygdala connectivity increases with frontal regions but decreases with posterior brain regions
  • Age-related amygdala changes may contribute to the decline in emotional recognition with age seen in humans

The authors conclude that the effect of oxytocin in older humans cannot simply be assumed to be the same as in younger adults.   Due to the effects of ageing, oxytocin response (and adverse effects) may be quite different in elderly humans.

Oxytocin research needs to include a focus on the elderly including grandparent-grandchild bonding.  Many children are primarily raised by their grandparents.  Understanding the dynamics of the oxytocin system in the elderly has practical implications for many families.

Readers with more interest in this topic are directed to the free full text manuscript that can be accessed by the PMID

Photo of reddish egret from the author's files.

Huffmeijer R, van Ijzendoorn MH, & Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ (2013). Ageing and oxytocin: a call for extending human oxytocin research to ageing populations - a mini-review. Gerontology, 59 (1), 32-9 PMID: 22922544

No comments:

Post a Comment