Sex-dependent effects of social isolation on the regulation of arginine-vasopressin (AVP) V1a, oxytocin (OT) and serotonin (5HT) 1a receptor binding and aggression

Horm Behav. 2019 Nov:116:104578. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2019.104578. Epub 2019 Aug 29.


It is widely held that social isolation produces higher rates of mortality and morbidity and has deleterious effects on an individual's sociality. Relatedly, it is widely observed that socially isolated adult rodents display significantly higher levels of aggression when placed in a social situation than do their conspecifics living in social groups. In the following study, we investigated the effects of social isolation on several neurochemical signals that play key roles in the regulation of social behavior in adults. More specifically, we examined the effects of social isolation on vasopressin (AVP) V1a, oxytocin (OT) and serotonin (5-HT)1a receptor binding within the neural circuit controlling social behavior. Male and female Syrian hamsters were housed individually or with two other hamsters for four weeks and were then tested with a same-sex nonaggressive intruder in a neutral arena for 5 min. Social isolation significantly increased aggression in both males and females and altered receptor binding in several brain regions in a sex-dependent manner. For example, V1a receptor binding was greater in socially isolated males in the anterior hypothalamus than it was in any other group. Taken together, these data provide substantial new support for the proposition that the social environment can have a significant impact on the structural and neurochemical mechanisms regulating social behavior and that the amount and type of social interactions can produce differential effects on the circuit regulating social behavior in a sex-dependent manner.

Keywords: Anterior hypothalamus; Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; Dominance; Dorsal raphe; Medial preoptic area; Sex differences; Social behavior; Social behavior neural network; Social experience; Submission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Arginine Vasopressin / metabolism
  • Cricetinae
  • Female
  • Hypothalamus, Anterior / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mesocricetus
  • Oxytocin / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Vasopressin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Isolation* / psychology


  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Receptors, Vasopressin
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A
  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Serotonin
  • Oxytocin