Social functions of individual vasopressin-oxytocin cell groups in vertebrates: what do we really know?

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2014 Oct;35(4):512-29. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2014.04.005. Epub 2014 May 9.


Vasopressin-oxytocin (VP-OT) nonapeptides modulate numerous social and stress-related behaviors, yet these peptides are made in multiple nuclei and brain regions (e.g., >20 in some mammals), and VP-OT cells in these areas often exhibit overlapping axonal projections. Furthermore, the magnocellular cell groups release peptide volumetrically from dendrites and soma, which gives rise to paracrine modulation in distal brain areas. Nonapeptide receptors also tend to be promiscuous. Hence, behavioral effects that are mediated by any given receptor type (e.g., the OT receptor) in a target brain region cannot be conclusively attributed to either VP or OT, nor to a specific cell group. We here review what is actually known about the social behavior functions of nonapeptide cell groups, with a focus on aggression, affiliation, bonding, social stress, and parental behavior, and discuss recent studies that demonstrate a diversity of sex-specific contributions of VP-OT cell groups to gregariousness and pair bonding.

Keywords: Affiliation; Aggression; Maternal behavior; Mesotocin; Oxytocin; Pair bond; Sex differences; Sociality; Vasopressin; Vasotocin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Humans
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Vasopressins / metabolism*
  • Vertebrates / metabolism*


  • Vasopressins
  • Oxytocin