Oxytocin and the neural mechanisms regulating social cognition and affiliative behavior

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2009 Oct;30(4):534-547. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2009.05.004. Epub 2009 May 28.


Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and released into the circulation through the neurohypophyseal system. Peripherally released oxytocin facilitates parturition and milk ejection during nursing. Centrally released oxytocin coordinates the onset of maternal nurturing behavior at parturition and plays a role in mother-infant bonding. More recent studies have revealed a more general role for oxytocin in modulating affiliative behavior in both sexes. Oxytocin regulates alloparental care and pair bonding in female monogamous prairie voles. Social recognition in male and female mice is also modulated by oxytocin. In humans, oxytocin increases gaze to the eye region of human faces and enhances interpersonal trust and the ability to infer the emotions of others from facial cues. While the neurohypopheseal oxytocin system has been well characterized, less is known regarding the nature of oxytocin release within the brain. Here we review the role of oxytocin in the regulation of prosocial interactions, and discuss the neuroanatomy of the central oxytocin system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / metabolism
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological


  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Oxytocin