Oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) DNA-methylation levels have been associated with trauma-exposure, mood- and anxiety disorders, and social processes relevant to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We hypothesized that OXTR methylation may play a role in the neurobiological underpinnings of PTSD. In the current study, we compared OXTR methylation between PTSD patients (n = 31, 14 females) and trauma-exposed controls (n = 36, 19 females). Additionally, the association between OXTR methylation and PTSD symptom severity and amygdala reactivity to an emotional faces task was assessed, as a neural hallmark of PTSD. DNA-methylation was investigated in the CpG island located at exon 3 of the OXTR, previously associated with OXTR expression. We observed a significant interaction between PTSD-status, sex and CpG-position on methylation levels. Post-hoc testing revealed that methylation levels at two specific CpG-sites were significantly higher in PTSD females compared to female trauma-exposed controls and PTSD males (CpGs Chr3:8809437, Chr3:8809413). No significant differences in methylation were observed between male PTSD patients and controls. Furthermore, within PTSD females, methylation in these CpG-sites was positively associated with anhedonia symptoms and with left amygdala responses to negative emotional faces, although this was no longer significant after stringent correction for multiple-comparisons. Though the modest size of the current sample is an important limitation, we are the first to report on OXTR methylation in PTSD, replicating previously observed (sex-specific) associations of OXTR methylation with other psychiatric disorders.
Nawijn, L., Krzyzewska, I. M., van Zuiden, M., Henneman, P., Koch, S. B. J., Mul, A. N., ... Olff, M. (2019). Oxytocin receptor gene methylation in male and female PTSD patients and trauma-exposed controls. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 29(1), 147-155. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2018.10.006