Effects of arginine vasopressin on human anxiety and associations with sex, dose, and V1a-receptor genotype

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RATIONALE: Arginine vasopressin (AVP) has dose- and sex-specific effects on social behavior, and variation in social responses is related to variation in the V1a receptor gene in animals. Whether such complexity also characterizes AVP effects on anxiety in humans, or whether V1a genotype is related to anxiety and/or AVP's ability to affect it, remains to be determined. OBJECTIVE: To test if AVP has dose-dependent effects on anxiety in men and/or women and if a particular allele within the RS3 promoter region of the V1a receptor gene is associated with anxiety and/or AVP effects on anxiety. METHOD: Men and women self-administered 20 IU or 40 IU intranasal arginine vasopressin (AVP) and placebo in a double-blind, within-subjects design, and State (SA) and Trait (TA) anxiety were measured 60 min later. PCR was used to identify allelic variation within the RS3 region of the V1a receptor gene. RESULTS: AVP decreased SA in men across both doses, whereas only the lower dose had the same effect, across sexes, in individuals who carry at least one copy of a previously identified "risk" allele in the RS3 promoter of the V1a receptor gene. Additionally, after placebo, women who carried a copy of the allele displayed lower TA than women who did not, and AVP acutely increased TA scores in those women. CONCLUSIONS: Exogenous AVP has modest sex- and dose-dependent effects on anxiety/affect in humans. Further, allelic variation in the V1a promoter appears associated with responsiveness to AVP's effects and, at least in women, to stable levels of anxiety/affect.