Social deficits are key hallmarks of the Clinical High Risk for Psychosis (CHR-P) state and of established psychotic disorders, and contribute to impaired social functioning, indicating a potential target for interventions. However, current treatments do not significantly ameliorate social impairments in CHR-P individuals. Given its critical role in social behaviour and cognition, the oxytocinergic (OT) system is a promising target for novel interventions in CHR-P subjects. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, 30 CHR-P males were studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on two occasions, once after 40IU self-administered intranasal OT and once after placebo. A modified version of the Sally-Anne task was used to assess brain activation during inferring others’ beliefs and social emotions. The Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test was acquired prior to the first scan to test whether OT effects were moderated by baseline social-emotional abilities. OT did not modulate behavioural performances but reduced activation in the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus compared with placebo while inferring others’ social emotions. Furthermore, the relationship between brain activation and task performance after OT administration was moderated by baseline social-emotional abilities. While task accuracy during inferring others’ social emotion increased with decreasing activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus in CHR-P individuals with low social-emotional abilities, there was no such relationship in CHR-P individuals with high social-emotional abilities. Our findings may suggest that acute OT administration enhances neural efficiency in the inferior frontal gyrus during inferring others’ social emotions in those CHR-P subjects with low baseline social-emotional abilities.
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