Targeting the oxytocin receptor may result in new drug candidates for autism

Oxytocin, a hormone secreted in the pituitary gland of the brain, is associated with several psychological conditions including autism. The hormone is also involved in the initiation of the birth process.

In a new study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, researchers at the University of Zurich detailed how targeting the oxytocin receptor may lead to the development of new drug candidates for the treatment of autism and other conditions.

“Understanding the exact three-dimensional interaction of retosiban and the oxytocin receptor at the atomic level serves as the blueprint for developing new therapeutics that regulate the receptor’s functioning,” said Andreas Plückthun, the study’s lead author.

In their findings, researchers uncovered an interaction between magnesium and cholesterol, two substances correlated with the oxytocin receptor, which enhances our understanding of the receptor mechanism. The hormone vasopressin was also implicated in the results.

“Because of their distinct roles in social behavior, cognition, and reproduction, the receptors of the oxytocin and vasopressin family represent attractive drug targets,” according to the findings.

“The crystal structure of the OTR in complex with the small-molecule antagonist retosiban presented in this study provides the first structural insights into these distinct neuropeptide GPCRs; it furthermore allows us to provide answers to several long-standing questions regarding the structural basis of the essential modulatory effects by both cholesterol and divalent cations,” researchers concluded.

The study, titled Crystal structure of the human oxytocin receptor, was also co-authored by Yann Waltenspühl, Jendrik Schöppe, Janosch Ehrenmann, and Lutz Kummer.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock
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