Distribution of vasopressin 1a and oxytocin receptor protein and mRNA in the basal forebrain and midbrain of the spiny mouse (Acomys cahirinus)

Brain Struct Funct. 2023 Mar;228(2):413-431. doi: 10.1007/s00429-022-02581-z. Epub 2022 Oct 21.


The nonapeptide system modulates numerous social behaviors through oxytocin and vasopressin activation of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) and vasopressin receptor (AVPR1A) in the brain. OXTRs and AVPR1As are widely distributed throughout the brain and binding densities exhibit substantial variation within and across species. Although OXTR and AVPR1A binding distributions have been mapped for several rodents, this system has yet to be characterized in the spiny mouse (Acomys cahirinus). Here we conducted receptor autoradiography and in situ hybridization to map distributions of OXTR and AVPR1A binding and Oxtr and Avpr1a mRNA expression throughout the basal forebrain and midbrain of male and female spiny mice. We found that nonapeptide receptor mRNA is diffuse throughout the forebrain and midbrain and does not always align with OXTR and AVPR1A binding. Analyses of sex differences in brain regions involved in social behavior and reward revealed that males exhibit higher OXTR binding densities in the lateral septum, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and anterior hypothalamus. However, no association with gonadal sex was observed for AVPR1A binding. Hierarchical clustering analysis further revealed that co-expression patterns of OXTR and AVPR1A binding across brain regions involved in social behavior and reward differ between males and females. These findings provide mapping distributions and sex differences in nonapeptide receptors in spiny mice. Spiny mice are an excellent organism for studying grouping behaviors such as cooperation and prosociality, and the nonapeptide receptor mapping here can inform the study of nonapeptide-mediated behavior in a highly social, large group-living rodent.

Keywords: In situ hybridization; Oxytocin; Receptor autoradiography; Social behavior; Spiny mouses; Vasopressin.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Forebrain* / metabolism
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism
  • Murinae / genetics
  • Murinae / metabolism
  • Oxytocin
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Oxytocin* / genetics
  • Receptors, Vasopressin / genetics
  • Receptors, Vasopressin / metabolism
  • Social Behavior
  • Vasopressins / metabolism


  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Oxytocin
  • Receptors, Vasopressin
  • Vasopressins