Problems with measuring peripheral oxytocin: Can the data on oxytocin and human behavior be trusted?

Michael E. McCullough, Patricia Smith Churchland, Armando J. Mendez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

284 Scopus citations


Research on the neurobiological and behavioral effects of oxytocin (OT), as well as on its possible therapeutic applications, has intensified in the past decade. Accurate determination of peripheral OT levels is essential to reach meaningful conclusions and to motivate, support and inform clinical interventions. Different, but concordant, methods for measuring plasma OT have been developed over the past four decades, but since 2004 several commercially available methods have been favored in research with humans. Evaluation of these methods reveals that they lack reliability when used on unextracted samples of human fluids, and that they tag molecules in addition to OT, yielding estimates that are wildly discrepant with an extensive body of earlier findings that were obtained using methods that are well validated, but more laborious. An accurate, specific, and readily available method for measuring OT that can be adopted as the standard in the field is urgently needed for advances in our understanding of OT's roles in cognition and behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1485-1492
Number of pages8
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Bioanalytical validation
  • Enzyme immunoassay (EIA)
  • Enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay (ELISA)
  • Oxytocin
  • Peptides
  • Radioimmunoassay (RIA)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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