Scientists have created a new synthetic version of the "love hormone" that could soon be used to treat mental illnesses such as anxiety and schizophrenia.
Love hormone or oxytocin is actually a naturally occurring hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain.
Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia has developed a synthetic version of oxytocin which they say will have no side-effects.
Dr Markus Muttenthaler, a researcher from the university, said: "The downside to oxytocin is that it activates a number of receptors, some of which can lead to unwanted side effects."
The main concern is it can have some side effects such as heart problems when the dose is too high or is used for too long.
Dr Muttenthaler further explains: "For example, oxytocin is used to progress labour but it can have serious side effects such as cardiovascular problems or uterine rupture when used for too long or at a too-high dose."
However, the synthetic hormone they created has no side-effects. Dr Muttenthaler added: "It didn't activate heart muscle cells, and produced a more regular contraction pattern in uterine tissue, which indicates improved safety for mother and baby."
As oxytocin binds to several receptors in the brain and helps to regulate social interactions, stress and anxiety levels, it could treat mental health problems like anxiety and schizophrenia.
To see whether it works or not, the synthetic hormone was tested on mice. The researchers found that it actually worked and the mice treated with the hormone overcame social fear much quicker than those who didn't receive the treatment. It means that it could be used to treat anxiety, social phobia and even autism.
Muttenthaler said: "We're hoping to secure funding to improve the drug properties of this lead and carry out more extensive preclinical studies."
The research was published in the journal Science Signalling.