Developmental effects of oxytocin on neural activation and neuropeptide release in response to social stimuli

Horm Behav. 2006 Feb;49(2):206-14. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2005.07.001. Epub 2005 Aug 19.


Previous studies have revealed that the neuropeptide hormone oxytocin (OT) has developmental effects on subsequent social behavior and on mechanisms underlying social behavior such as OT neurons and estrogen receptor alpha. This suggests that OT might also have developmental effects on neural responses to social stimuli. This was tested in socially monogamous prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) by manipulating OT on the first day of life and then assessing the response to a heterosexual pairing in adulthood. The response to cohabitation was assessed by quantifying neural activation in regions of the brain associated with sociosexual behavior and anxiety using c-Fos immunoreactivity. Additionally, immunocytochemistry was used to label OT and vasopressin neurons and plasma was assayed for both neuropeptides. Treatment effects were evident in females, but not in males. Blockade of OT receptors with an OT antagonist on the first day of life resulted in neural activation of the central amygdala in response to a pairing with a novel male in adulthood. The central amygdala does not normally express c-Fos after a heterosexual pairing in reproductively naïve prairie voles. Treatment effects also were observed in vasopressin immunoreactivity in the SON with OT-treated females showing a decrease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Arginine Vasopressin / metabolism
  • Arvicolinae / physiology*
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Genes, fos
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Neuropeptides / physiology*
  • Oxytocin / blood
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / drug effects
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Environment*
  • Supraoptic Nucleus / drug effects
  • Supraoptic Nucleus / physiology


  • Neuropeptides
  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Oxytocin