Research: Alternative to the "love hormone" oxytocin makes childbirth easier

Research: Alternative to the

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Alternative to oxytocin: New chemical compound to facilitate childbirth

The active ingredient oxytocin is used in pregnant women, among other things, to initiate childbirth or to increase or stimulate labor during childbirth. But the substance often has serious side effects. An international team of researchers has now developed an alternative with fewer side effects to the “love hormone” oxytocin.

New chemical compound works in a similar way to the “love hormone” oxytocin

Markus Muttenthaler from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna, together with an international research team, has developed a new chemical compound that works similarly to the “love hormone” oxytocin, but is safer to use and has fewer side effects. This connection has the potential to be used in the future for a wide variety of studies and therapeutic applications, where the oxytocin receptor plays a role, according to a statement from the university. The study has now been published in the "Science Signaling" magazine.

Cuddle hormone with multiple effects

Oxytocin, also known as the "cuddle" or "binding hormone", plays a particularly important role at birth. The active ingredient is approved, among other things, to initiate birth in pregnant women.

In addition, the “love hormone” that is formed in the brain regulates processes such as the mother-child bond and is also responsible for breastfeeding.

It helps to cope with fears and also influences the behavior between partners and general social interactions by making them more bondable and soothing.

But the hormone can do much more: Scientific studies have shown that ocytocin could help with muscle loss and anorexia.

And it relieves pain, as researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg found in a study.

Last but not least, scientific studies have shown that oxytocin can reduce sexual discomfort in women. According to Austrian scientists, women and men benefit from this.

However, the use of oxytocin is often associated with side effects such as irregular heartbeat, rapid or slow heartbeat, increased blood pressure, headache, nausea and vomiting.

Hormones regulate many important physiological functions

Oxytocin and vasopressin are peptide hormones that regulate many important physiological functions in humans, such as reproduction, cardiovascular, social behavior and learning, the University of Vienna said.

Both hormones act via four receptors, which are structurally very similar. In various (disease) cases, these receptors are promising targets for drug development.

For example, activating the oxytocin receptor can improve the social behavior of autistic children, relieve pain associated with migraines and chronic bowel problems, or facilitate the birth of a child.

Activation of a vasopressin receptor inhibits water excretion and is used in diabetes insipidus. Another vasopressin receptor is a target for cardiovascular problems because it is involved in the contraction of blood vessels.

Medical development of effective substances is slow

Although there are many medical applications for these signaling systems, the medical development of active substances is slow.

A major reason for this is the difficulty in making selective compounds that activate only one of the four receptors to rule out undesirable side effects.

Another problem is that the selectivity of such compounds is often only given in animals, but not in humans.

Therapeutic use to facilitate childbirth

The Austrian medical chemist Markus Muttenthaler from the University of Vienna has addressed this problem and, using a new approach, has created oxytocin-receptor-selective compounds that maintain selectivity in animals and humans.

In his study, he examined the therapeutic application in clinical use of oxytocin to facilitate childbirth.

Oxytocin can cause side effects for mother and child that are related to the activation of the vasopressin receptor V1a if the dose is too high or if it is used for too long.

Muttenthaler's newly developed compound was able to increase uterine contractions in a similar way to oxytocin, but in a much more regulated way.

In addition, the new compound - [Se-Se] -Oxytocin-OH - did not result in activation of cardiac muscle cells, which improves safety in use. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: MidPoint. Dr. Ian Mitchell discusses his study about the love hormone oxytocin (August 2022).