The Action Radius of Oxytocin Release in the Mammalian CNS: From Single Vesicles to Behavior

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2017 Nov;38(11):982-991. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2017 Sep 9.


The hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) has attracted the attention both of the scientific community and a general audience because of its prosocial effects in mammals, and OT is now seen as a facilitator of mammalian species propagation. Furthermore, OT is a candidate for the treatment of social deficits in several neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental conditions. Despite such possibilities and a long history of studies on OT behavioral effects, the mechanisms of OT actions in the brain remain poorly understood. In the present review, based on anatomical, biochemical, electrophysiological, and behavioral studies, we propose a novel model of local OT actions in the central nervous system (CNS) via focused axonal release, which initiates intracellular signaling cascades in specific OT-sensitive neuronal populations and coordinated brain region-specific behaviors.

Keywords: axonal release; dense core vesicles; oxytocin; oxytocin receptor signaling; somatodendritic release.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Secretory Vesicles / metabolism


  • Oxytocin