Brain substrates of infant-mother attachment: contributions of opioids, oxytocin, and norepinephrine

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1998 May;22(3):437-52. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(97)00052-3.


The aim of this paper is to review recent work concerning the psychobiological substrates of social bonding, focusing on the literature attributed to opioids, oxytocin and norepinephrine in rats. Existing evidence and thinking about the biological foundations of attachment in young mammalian species and the neurobiology of several other affiliative behaviors including maternal behavior, sexual behavior and social memory is reviewed. We postulate the existence of social motivation circuitry which is common to all mammals and consistent across development. Oxytocin, vasopressin, endogenous opioids and catecholamines appear to participate in a wide variety of affiliative behaviors and are likely to be important components in this circuitry. It is proposed that these same neurochemical and neuroanatomical patterns will emerge as key substrates in the neurobiology of infant attachments to their caregivers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Opioid Peptides / physiology*
  • Oxytocin / physiology*
  • Rats


  • Opioid Peptides
  • Oxytocin
  • Norepinephrine