The neural mechanisms and circuitry of the pair bond

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2018 Nov;19(11):643-654. doi: 10.1038/s41583-018-0072-6.


Love is one of our most powerful emotions, inspiring some of the greatest art, literature and conquests of human history. Although aspects of love are surely unique to our species, human romantic relationships are displays of a mating system characterized by pair bonding, likely built on ancient foundational neural mechanisms governing individual recognition, social reward, territorial behaviour and maternal nurturing. Studies in monogamous prairie voles and mice have revealed precise neural mechanisms regulating processes essential for the pair bond. Here, we discuss current viewpoints on the biology underlying pair bond formation, its maintenance and associated behaviours from neural and evolutionary perspectives.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Oxytocin / physiology
  • Pair Bond*
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Social Behavior
  • Species Specificity
  • Vasopressins / physiology


  • Vasopressins
  • Oxytocin
  • Dopamine