Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and social anxiety disorder involve various forms of social deficits like impaired affiliative behavior, social cognition and social approach. Although the neurobiological underpinnings of these disorders are largely unknown, rodent and human studies suggest an involvement of the evolutionary highly conserved oxytocin (OXT) and vasopressin (AVP), as these neuropeptides modulate various aspects of mammalian social behaviors. In this review we summarize the current knowledge regarding the involvement of brain OXT and AVP in rodent social behaviors related to social dysfunctions in ASD. Starting with an introduction into the neurobiology of the central OXT and AVP systems (neuroanatomy, central release, receptor distribution) we describe the distinct roles OXT and AVP play in basic social behaviors in rodents, i.e. affiliative behavior (pair-bonding and maternal behavior), social cognition (social memory), and social approach (social preference or social avoidance). The regulatory capacity of OXT and AVP to modulate social behaviors in various rodent species implies a high translational potential, in particular that dys-regulations in the brain neuropeptide systems may underlie social dysfunctions in ASD. It also suggests that the brain OXT and AVP systems are promising pharmacotherapeutic targets to improve social behaviors and to reverse social deficits.
Keywords: Affiliative behavior; Autism; Oxytocin; Social approach; Social memory; Vasopressin.
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