Oxytocin receptor is a potential biomarker of the hyporesponsive HPA axis subtype of PTSD and might be modulated by HPA axis reactivity traits in humans and mice

J. Hofmann, C. Huber, B. Novak, M. Schreckenbach, C.F. Schubert, C. Touma, B.P.F. Rutten, U. Schmidt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study aimed to identify yet unavailable blood biomarkers for the responsive and the hyporesponsive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis subtypes of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As, I, we recently discovered the intranasal neuropeptide oxytocin to reduce experimentally provoked PTSD symptoms, II, expression of its receptor (OXTR) has hitherto not been assessed in PTSD patients, and III, oxytocin and OXTR have previously been related to the HPA axis, we considered both as suitable candidates. During a Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), we compared serum oxytocin and blood OXTR mRNA concentrations between female PTSD patients, their HPA axis reactivity subtypes and sex and age-matched healthy controls (HC). At baseline, both candidates differentiated the hyporesponsive HPA axis subtype from HC, however, only baseline OXTR mRNA discriminated also between subtypes. Furthermore, in the hyporesponsive HPA axis subgroup, OXTR mRNA levels correlated with PTSD symptoms and changed markedly during the TSST. To assess the influence of (traumatic) stress on the cerebral expression of oxytocin and its receptor and to test their suitability as biomarkers for the mouse PTSD-like syndrome, we then analyzed oxytocin, its mRNA (Oxt) and Oxtr mRNA in three relevant brain regions and Oxt in blood of a PTSD mouse model. To further explore the HPA axis reactivity subtype dependency of OXTR, we compared cerebral OXTR protein expression between mice exhibiting two different HPA axis reactivity traits, i.e., FK506 binding protein 51 knockout vs. wildtype mice. In summary, blood OXTR mRNA emerged as a potential biomarker of the hyporesponsive HPA axis PTSD subtype and prefrontal cortical Oxtr and Oxt of the mouse PTSD-like syndrome. Moreover, we found first translational evidence for a HPA axis responsivity trait-dependent regulation of OXTR expression. The lack of a cohort of the (relatively rare) hyporesponsive HPA axis subtype of HC is a limitation of our study.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105242
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • TSST
  • Neuropeptides
  • HPA axis
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • FKBP5 knockout mice
  • PTSD biomarkers


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