The hormone oxytocin, best-known for aiding in childbirth and mother-infant bonding, may also play a role in the development of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) — indicating that the condition is, at least in part, driven by abnormal hormone control and secretion.
This understanding may lead BPH research on a new path, that of creating treatments to target brain-derived hormones. Researchers also underscored the potential of oxytocin as a biomarker of disease in BPH.
The study, “Oxytocin: its role in the benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) via the ERK pathway,” was published in the journal Clinical Science.
Oxytocin is not usually linked to prostate problems, but researchers at Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine in China noted that metabolic syndrome often is. Metabolic syndrome is the collective term for the numerous problems associated with poor diet, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
This condition is known to increase the risk of BPH, but studies also show that it may change a hormonal pathway — called the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis — that originates in the brain and affects the secretion of sex hormones. Since oxytocin is part of this pathway, researchers investigated if it may contribute to BPH.
Researchers took a multifaceted approach, ranging from exploring abnormalities in BPH patients to experimenting in lab dishes.
Blood samples from 56 BPH patients and 53 healthy controls found “significantly” higher oxytocin levels in the patients, and an analysis linked the higher hormone levels to larger prostate volumes. Even when researchers included in their analysis other factors that play an important role in metabolic syndrome, the association between oxytocin and BPH remained.
The team then treated mice with either oxytocin or oxytocin blockers. Mice that received the hormone grew larger prostates, while blockers prevented prostate growth.
Finally, the researchers examined potential molecular pathways that may mediate the effects of oxytocin on the prostate. In lab-grown prostate cells, they showed that the hormone activated a molecular pathway known to contribute to cell growth.
“Thus, the hypothalamic regulation may be involved in the development of BPH and opens the door for more medications to be considered in further studies. Furthermore, oxytocin may be a pathogenic factor for the BPH and could be used as a biomarker,” the researchers concluded.