The so-called love hormone, oxytocin, may be worth investigating as a treatment for COVID-19, a new study suggests.
One of the most serious complications of infection with the new coronavirus is a “cytokine storm,” in which the body attacks its own tissues.
There are currently no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments for COVID-19, which means that “repurposing existing drugs that can act on the adaptive immune response and prevent the cytokine storm in early phases of the disease is a priority,” according to the researchers.
Previous research suggests that oxytocin — a hormone that’s produced in the brain and is involved in reproduction and childbirth — reduces inflammation.
In this new study, researcher Ali Imami, a graduate research assistant at the University of Toledo in Ohio, and colleagues used a U.S. National Institutes of Health database to analyze characteristics of genes treated with drugs closely related to oxytocin.
The investigators found that one drug in particular, carbetocin, has similar characteristics (called a signature) to genes with reduced expression of the inflammatory markers that trigger cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients.
Carbetocin’s signature suggests that the drug may trigger activation of immune cells called T-cells that play an important role in immune response. In addition, carbetocin’s signature is also similar to that of lopinavir, an antiretroviral medication under study as a treatment for COVID-19.
All of these factors indicate that oxytocin may have potential as a targeted treatment for cytokine storms in COVID-19 patients, the researchers said in a news release from the American Physiological Society.
“Understanding the mechanisms by which oxytocin or the oxytocin system can be a new immune target is crucial,” the authors concluded in their report, which was published online recently in the journal Physiological Genomics.
However, they added that “safety and efficacy of intravenous oxytocin in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 remains to be assessed.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.
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