Intranasal oxytocin reduces weight gain in diet-induced obese prairie voles

Physiol Behav. 2018 Nov 1:196:67-77. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.08.007. Epub 2018 Aug 23.


Oxytocin (OT) elicits weight loss in diet-induced obese (DIO) rodents, nonhuman primates and humans by reducing food intake and increasing energy expenditure. In addition to being important in the regulation of energy balance, OT is involved in social behaviors including parent-infant bonds, friendships, and pair bonds. However, the impact of social context on susceptibility to diet-induced obesity (DIO) and feeding behavior (including food sharing) has not been investigated in a rodent model that forms strong social bonds (i.e. prairie vole). Our goals were to determine in Prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) whether i) social context impacts susceptibility to DIO and ii) chronic intranasal OT reverses DIO. Voles were housed in divided cages with holes in the divider and paired with a same-sex animal with either the same food [high fat diet (HFD)/HFD, [low fat diet (LFD; chow)/chow], or the opposite food (HFD/chow or chow/HFD) for 19 weeks. HFD-fed voles pair-housed with voles maintained on the HFD demonstrated increased weight relative to pair-housed voles that were both maintained on chow. The study was repeated to determine the impact of social context on DIO susceptibility and body composition when animals are maintained on purified sugar-sweetened HFD and LFD to enhance palatability. As before, we found that voles demonstrated higher weight gain on the HFD/HFD housing paradigm, in part, through increased energy intake and the weight gain was a consequence of an increase in fat mass. However, HFD-fed animals housed with LFD-fed animals (and vice versa) showed intermediate patterns of weight gain and evidence of food sharing. Of translational importance is the finding that chronic intranasal OT appeared to reduce weight gain in DIO voles through a decrease in fat mass with no reduction in lean body mass. These effects were associated with transient reductions in food intake and increased food sharing. These findings identify a role of social context in the pathogenesis of DIO and indicate that chronic intranasal OT treatment reduces weight gain and body fat mass in DIO prairie voles, in part, by reducing food intake.

Keywords: (Microtus ochrogaster); Intranasal; Obesity; Oxytocin; Prairie vole.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects
  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Animals
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Arvicolinae
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Female
  • Male
  • Obesity / drug therapy*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Environment
  • Weight Gain / drug effects*


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Oxytocin