Prof. Dr. Donatella Marazitti

Neurobiology of Romantic Attachment


Romantic attachment is a typical human bonding that can be defined as the establishment of a relationship with a partner. This is a real paradox: humans are attracted to, courted by and breed with genetically not related individuals whom they would otherwise instinctively avoid. It can be, therefore, considered the psychological strategy that enables us to overcome neophobia and to mate with and create a strong, often life-long bond with a complete stranger. The sum of the emotions+behaviors+subjective awareness of the whole processes constitutes, perhaps, the essence of love.
If some components of these complex processes can be identified also in mammals, what renders romantic attachment typical of humans is the evidences that the formation of pair bonding in our species is not related only to the reproduction, but also to the creation of social organizations with the ultimate goal of providing reward and reduction of stress system. Therefore, the nature should have provided mechanisms of increasing complexity for assuring that the focus is limited to one partner only and the sense of safety is formed and maintained, while rewarding the caregivers with that feeling of pleasure and completeness that we call love. It is not surprising that specific brain mechanisms have evolved to accomplish such a goal, that is to say, that romantic attachment and love are not regulated by chance, but rather by well-established biological processes for the obvious important consequences of them from the evolutionary point of view.
The aim of this lecture is to present a comprehensive review of the neurobiological substrates of those complex processes that probably, all together, are part of and/or belong to that feeling which everybody can recognize as love. A particular emphasis will be given to the author’s contributions in this area and to some speculative models that may constitute a starting point for deeper investigations not only of the biological mechanisms underlying love, but also different neuropsychiatric conditions.

Key Words: Attachment, Love, Neurobiology, OCD, Social Phobia, Autism


Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, Dipartimento di Medicina Clinica e Sperimentale, Section of Psychiatry, University of Pisa, Italy; Scientif Director of Brain Research Foundation Onlus, Lucac, Italy

University attended with dates:
– Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, University of Pisa, Italy, from November 1975 to July 1981;- Postgraduation Specialty School of Psychiatry, from November 1981 to July 1985.
– Postgraduation Specialty School of Analytical Biochemistry, from November 1987 to November 1990.
Degrees held:
1- Degree in Medicine and Surgery, obtained with honours, July 28, 1981;
2- Specialty in Psychiatry, obtained with honours, July 8, 1985.
3- Specialty in Clinical Biochemistry, obtained with honours, November 22, 1990.

Scholarships, fellowships, and other academic distinctions:
1- Qualification for the “Scuola Normale Superiore” of Pisa in the academic year 1981 and 1982.
2- Fellowship of the Norvegian goverment from March 1983 to December 1983 for a training course in Neurochemistry at the Neurochemical laboratory of the University of Oslo (Norway)
3- Grant from the European Science Foundation to attend the 1987 winter School in Zuoz (Switzerland)
4- Travel Grant from the International Society for Neurochemistry to attend the 12th ISN meeting in Algarve (Portugal) in april 1989
5- Grant from the European Science Foundation to attend the 1989 autumn School in Castelvecchio Pascoli (Italy)
6- Winner of the National Prize for a study on “Serotonin and Hypertension”
7- One year-long Grant from the Italian Research Council for a research project on the biology of depression in the years1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992
8- Ole Raefelsen Award for Psychiatry, September 1990
9- European College of Neuropharmacology Award, October 1991.
10- Three years-long Grant from the Italian Research Council for a research project on the neurobiology of aging, from the year 1991 to the year 1995
11 -One year-long Grant from the Ministry of the University and Scientific Research for a project on neurobiology of bipolar disorders in the years 1991, 1992, 1993
12 – Three year-long Grant from the Ministry of the University and Scientific Research for a project on neurobiology of aging in the years 1995-1998.
13 -Different grants from Ministry of the University and Scientific Research and the Italian Research Council on the pharmacology of the 5-HT transporter, different 5-HT and dopamine receptors and their intracellular transduction processes, in relation to different psychiatric or physiological conditions from the year 1991 up-to now.
14 -Grant of The European Spa Association to study the effects of Spa treatments on fybromialgia
15 -Two-years long grant of the Council of the Italian Government on the prevalence of new technology addiction

SIP (Società italiana di Psichiatria), SOPSI (Società italiana di Psicopatologia), SINS (Società italiana di Neuroscienze), SIPNI (Società italiana di Psiconeuroimmunologia), ENA (European Neuroscience Association), ECNP (European College of Neuropharmacology), ISN (International Society for Neurochemistry), ISPNE (International Society for Psychoendocrinology), Serotonin Club, EPA (European Association of Psychiatry), Society for Biological Psychiatry, CINP (Collegium Internationale Psychopharmacologicum), APA (American Psychiatric Association), ICOCS (International College of OCD and related Disorders).

Dr. Marazziti is member of the WPA section for OCD, member of the International Council for OCD, secretary of the Tuscany section of the Italian Society of Psychiatry and of the Italian Group for OCD and related disorders, member of the executive committee of the ECNP and of the educational committee of the CINP. She is also foreign advisor of the OCD foundation.

Teaching activities
Dr. Marazziti has participated as a speaker in thousands of national and international congresses, meetings and masters. She is Professor of Psychiatry at the Medical School and at the Specialty School of Psychiatry at the University of Pisa, where she holds her own courses since 15 years.

She is in the editorial board of the following journals:
“European Neuropsychopharmacology”, “Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology”, “Journal of Depression and Anxiety”, “CNS Spectrums”, “Focus on OCD”, “Primary Psychiatry”, “Clinical Neuropsychiatry”, “BMC Psychiatry”, Annals of Psychiatry” She is editor-in-chief of “Clinical Neuropsychiatry”.

Research projects in progress:
– Peripheral serotonergic and dopaminergic markers in healthy subjects and neuropsychiatric patients: correlations with personality traits, clinical status and pharmacological response;
– In situ hybridization of different neuroreceptors in human brain from healthy subjects and psychiatric patients (brain provided by the US NAMI) and in peripheral cells;
– Biochemical characterization of an endogenous ligand (B.B.I.A.) acting on benzodiazepine central receptor;
– Molecular biology of some neuroreceptors in mood disorders;
– Second messengers coupled to serotonin transporter and serotonergic receptors.
– Oxytocin levels in different conditions

Publications: Over 550 publications (258 in the Pubmed system) mainly in international journals and the 8 books listed underneath

  1. Marazziti D., Cassano G.B.: La serotonina nella fisiopatologia del sistema nervoso centrale. R. Cortina ed., Milano, 1989
  2. Conti L., Marazziti D. (eds.): Aspetti biologici, psicologici e sociali delle condotte suicidarie. Pacini ed., Pisa, 1992
  3. Hollander E., Zohar J., Marazziti D., B. Olivier B: Current insights in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK, 1994
  4. Marazziti D., Basile Fasolo C., Balestri C., Cassano G.B.: Antidepressivi e funzionalità sessuale. Quaderni Italiani di Psichiatria. Vol XV 1996.
  5. Marazziti D., Ravizza L.: Il gioco d’azzardo patologico: ma è davvero un gioco? Martin Dunitz ed. (Londra), 2000.
  6. Finiberg N., Marazziti D., Stein DJ. Obsessive-compulsive disorder. A practical guide.Martin Dunitz ed. (Londra) 2001
  7. Marazziti D.: Psicofarmacoterapia pratica. Fioriti Ed. (Roma, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2013
  8. Vitello B., Masi G., Marazziti D.: Handbook of child and adolescent pharmacopsychiatry. CRC Press 2006

Two best-sellers both translated in Greek and Portuguese:
“La natura dell’amore”, Rizzoli, Milan (Italy), 2002
“E vissero per sempre gelosi e contenti, Rizzoli, Milan (Italy), 2008
One novel “Con te perdo sempre