Washington: Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered that oxytocin-a hormone associated with maternal nurturing, social attachments, childbirth and sex-is indispensable for healthy muscle maintenance and repair.
The new study presents oxytocin as the latest treatment target for age-related muscle wasting, or sarcopenia.
A few other biochemical factors in blood have been connected to aging and disease in recent years, but oxytocin is the first anti-aging molecule identified that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for clinical use in humans, the researchers said.
Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin, is already used to help with labor and to control bleeding after childbirth. Clinical trials of an oxytocin nasal spray are also underway to alleviate symptoms associated with mental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and dementia.
"Unfortunately, most of the molecules discovered so far to boost tissue regeneration are also associated with cancer, limiting their potential as treatments for humans," study principal investigator Irina Conboy, associate professor of bioengineering said.
"Our quest is to find a molecule that not only rejuvenates old muscle and other tissue, but that can do so sustainably long-term without increasing the risk of cancer," she said.
Conboy and her research team said that oxytocin, secreted into the blood by the brain's pituitary gland, is a good candidate because it is a broad range hormone that reaches every organ, and it is not known to be associated with tumors or to interfere with the immune system.
Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the " trust hormone " because of its association with romance and friendship. It is released with a warm hug, a grasped hand or a loving gaze, and it increases libido.
The hormone kicks into high gear during and after childbirth, helping new mothers bond with and breastfeed their new babies.
"This is the hormone that makes your heart melt when you see kittens, puppies and human babies," Conboy, who is also a member of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center and of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) said.
The researchers pointed out that while oxytocin is found in both young boys and girls, it is not yet known when levels of the hormone start to decline in humans, and what levels are necessary for maintaining healthy tissues.
The study is set to be published in the journal Nature Communications