By Marc Beuttler

A new study in mice suggests that the hormone oxytocin, often associated with the “warm fuzzy” feelings in psychology, counteracts age-related decline of old muscles. By injecting oxytocin under the skin of aged mice, scientists were able to restore the regenerative potential of muscle and help old rodents heal at up to 80% the rate of young mice.

Muscle regeneration declines with age and leads to a gradual loss of tone and mass, as well as to degenerative disorders and eventually organ failure. Though scientists have long known about the neurological effects of oxytocin, they first noted that oxytocin might be related to the aging process in women who had ovaries surgically removed. These women experienced a decline of oxytocin, which mimicked the effects of aging.

This new use for oxytocin has implications for the expanding field of age-related medical research. As the proportion of people over age 60 grows, there is a pressing need for ways to reduce or stop age-related illnesses. Oxytocin and a few other molecules look to be promising tools in this growing field of medicine.