Inactivation of the oxytocin and the vasopressin (Avp) 1b receptor genes, but not the Avp 1a receptor gene, differentially impairs the Bruce effect in laboratory mice (Mus musculus)

Endocrinology. 2008 Jan;149(1):116-21. doi: 10.1210/en.2007-1056. Epub 2007 Oct 18.


The Bruce effect is a pheromonally mediated process whereby exposure to chemosensory cues from an unfamiliar male terminates pregnancy in a recently mated female. Pharmacological and genetic evidence implicates both oxytocin (Oxt) and vasopressin (Avp) in the regulation of social memory in males, but less work has been done in females. We tested the extent to which the Avp receptors (Avprs) 1a and 1b and Oxt are essential for the Bruce effect, a phenomenon that relies on olfactory memory. Adult female mice were paired with stimulus males and monitored for the presence of sperm plugs. Wild-type, heterozygous, and homozygous knockout (KO) females for either the Avpr1a, Avpr1b, or Oxt genes were randomly assigned to one of the following treatment groups: 1) alone (mate removed, no second exposure to another animal); 2) paired continuously (mate kept with female for 10-14 d); 3) familiar male (mate removed, reintroduced 24 h later); or 4) unfamiliar male (mate removed, BalbC male introduced 24 h later). Regardless of genotype, 90-100% of females in the alone or paired continuously groups became pregnant. The Oxt KO females terminated their pregnancies regardless of whether their original mate or an unfamiliar male was reintroduced. The Avpr1b KO mice failed to terminate pregnancy in the presence of an unfamiliar male. The Avpr1a KO mice exhibited a normal Bruce effect. These data demonstrate that both Oxt and the Avpr1b are critical for the normal expression of the Bruce effect but have different effects on the interpretation of social cues.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory
  • Embryo Loss / etiology*
  • Embryo Loss / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal*
  • Receptors, Vasopressin / genetics*
  • Social Behavior
  • Time Factors


  • Receptors, Vasopressin
  • Oxytocin