Raphe serotonin neuron-specific oxytocin receptor knockout reduces aggression without affecting anxiety-like behavior in male mice only

Genes Brain Behav. 2015 Feb;14(2):167-76. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12202. Epub 2015 Mar 5.


Serotonin and oxytocin influence aggressive and anxiety-like behaviors, though it is unclear how the two may interact. That the oxytocin receptor is expressed in the serotonergic raphe nuclei suggests a mechanism by which the two neurotransmitters may cooperatively influence behavior. We hypothesized that oxytocin acts on raphe neurons to influence serotonergically mediated anxiety-like, aggressive and parental care behaviors. We eliminated expression of the oxytocin receptor in raphe neurons by crossing mice expressing Cre recombinase under control of the serotonin transporter promoter (Slc6a4) with our conditional oxytocin receptor knockout line. The knockout mice generated by this cross are normal across a range of behavioral measures: there are no effects for either sex on locomotion in an open-field, olfactory habituation/dishabituation or, surprisingly, anxiety-like behaviors in the elevated O and plus mazes. There was a profound deficit in male aggression: only one of 11 raphe oxytocin receptor knockouts showed any aggressive behavior, compared to 8 of 11 wildtypes. In contrast, female knockouts displayed no deficits in maternal behavior or aggression. Our results show that oxytocin, via its effects on raphe neurons, is a key regulator of resident-intruder aggression in males but not maternal aggression. Furthermore, this reduction in male aggression is quite different from the effects reported previously after forebrain or total elimination of oxytocin receptors. Finally, we conclude that when constitutively eliminated, oxytocin receptors expressed by serotonin cells do not contribute to baseline anxiety-like behaviors or maternal care.

Keywords: Conditional knockout; maternal aggression; oxytocin; serotonin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / metabolism*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Oxytocin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / deficiency
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / metabolism
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics


  • OXTR protein, mouse
  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Serotonin
  • Oxytocin