Joshua D. Woolley, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, UCSF
The Role of Oxytocin as a Potential Biomarker for Psychosis
Dr. Woolley has been studying the underpinnings of social deficits in schizophrenia and is currently examining oxytocin's potential as a treatment for the social dysfunction observed in patients with schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia often demonstrate significant social cognitive deficits that can impair the formation and maintenance of healthy relationships, and negatively impact social interactions and community participation. However, there are currently no pharmacological treatments available to target these deficits. In healthy individuals, the natural hormone oxytocin has been shown to enhance social abilities such as understanding emotions and trusting others. Thus, a primary focus of our research has been to examine whether supplementary oxytocin administration can improve social cognition in individuals with schizophrenia, which may ultimately lead to stronger relationships, improved social and occupational functioning, and a higher overall quality of life.
In addition to our ongoing behavioral study examining the effects on oxytocin on social cognition in adults with schizophrenia, we are currently engaged in two studies that utilize neuroimaging (fMRI and MEG) to explore oxytocin-induced brain changes in patients with schizophrenia when engaged in social cognitive tasks.
Building on his research with oxytocin and schizophrenia, Dr. Woolley works in collaboration with Dr. Wendy Berry Mendes and Dr. Danielle Schlosser at the University of California, San Francisco to investigate whether oxytocin can improve dyadic family interactions in families where a child has been diagnosed with a mental illness. Parents, caretakers and other family members often experience stress, guilt, feelings of isolation, and other emotional difficulties when one or more relatives are diagnosed with mental illness. This can negatively effect the relationship between patients and family members, and interfere with treatment and care. Dr. Woolley and his team hope that oxytocin can help mediate some of these emotionally challenging experiences and foster positive communication.
Dr. Woolley also works closely with Dr. Steven Batki, Dr. David Kan, and research fellow Dr. Chris Stauffer at the San Francisco VA Medical Center's on studies that examine whether oxytocin can used as an adjunct treatment for overcoming opioid dependence and other substance use disorders. Additionly, Dr. Woolley collaborates with Dr. Sophia Vinogradov, a leading researcher in intensive computerized cognitive training exercises for patients with schizophrenia, to assess the feasibility of delivering cognitive training on mobile devices.
Most recently, Dr. Woolley and his team have been awarded a grant to study the effects of oxytocin on team dynamics and unit cohesion in ROTC recruits. The team has also recently received a grant to study PTSD.
To read more about Dr. Woolley's research, please visit his lab's website here.
To see Dr. Woolley on PubMed, click here.