Challenges for measuring oxytocin: The blind men and the elephant?

MacLean, E. L., Wilson, S., Martin, W. L., Davis, J. M., Nazarloo, H. P., & Carter, C. S. (2019). Challenges for Measuring Oxytocin: The Blind Men and the Elephant? Psychoneuroendocrinology, 107(May), 225–231. [PDF]

Since its discovery more than a century ago, oxytocin has become one of the most intensively studied molecules in behavioral biology. In the last five years, Psychoneuroendocrinology has published more than 500 articles with oxytocin in the title, with many of these articles including measures of endogenous oxytocin concentrations. Despite longstanding interest, methods of measuring endogenous oxytocin are still in active development. The widely varying oxytocin concentrations detected by different approaches to measurement – and lack of correlation among these techniques – has led to controversy and confusion. We identify features of oxytocin that may help to explain why various approaches may be differentially sensitive to diverse conformational states of the oxytocin molecule. We propose that discrepancies in data generated by different methods of measurement are not necessarily an indicator that some methods are valid whereas others are not. Rather, we propose that current challenges in the measurement of oxytocin may be analogous to the parable of the blind men and the elephant, with different methods of sample preparation and measurement being sensitive to different states in which the oxytocin molecule can exist.