Effects of stress and glucocorticoids on CNS oxytocin receptor binding

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1997 Aug;22(6):411-22. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4530(97)00045-0.


Oxytocin receptors in several regions of the limbic system are regulated by gonadal steroids and play an important role in the mediation of maternal, sexual and affiliative behaviors. We have previously reported oxytocin receptor regulation by glucocorticoids in hippocampus and subiculum-neuroanatomical regions implicated in memory and stress regulation. In the current study we examined oxytocin receptor regulation by stress and high glucocorticoid concentration in adrenally intact male rats. Single prolonged stress and chronic non-habituating stress were used as experimental conditions in the first study, and chronic non-habituating and high dose corticosterone implants in the second. Oxytocin receptor concentration was assessed using in vitro receptor autoradiography with [125I]OVTA at the approximate KD concentration. Both stress paradigms increased oxytocin receptor binding (F = 3.7, df = 2, p = .03) across brain regions in the first study. Chronic non-habituating stress and corticosterone implants increased oxytocin receptor binding in the ventral hippocampus only (one-way ANOVA, F = 3.88, df = 2, p < .05). The current studies demonstrate that stress increases oxytocin receptor binding in areas of the CNS that are rich in glucocorticoid receptors, such as hippocampus. This suggests differential regulation of oxytocin receptors in CNS, depending upon their functional role in different regions. Oxytocin receptor modulation could mediate some of the long-term effects of stress on memory, and possibly play a role in the regulation of hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal stress response. The ability of circulating glucocorticoids to up-regulate these receptors suggests a plausible mechanism for this stress-sensitive regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenalectomy
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Down-Regulation / physiology
  • Drug Implants
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / drug effects
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects


  • Drug Implants
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Receptors, Oxytocin