Central vasopressin and oxytocin, and their homologues, modulate a multitude of social behaviors in a variety of animal taxa. All social behavior requires some level of social (re)cognition, and these neuropeptides exert powerful effects on an animal's ability to recognize and appropriately respond to a conspecific. Social cognition for many mammals, including rodents, begins at the main and accessory olfactory systems. We recently identified vasopressin expressing neurons in the main and accessory olfactory bulb and in the anterior olfactory nucleus, a region of olfactory cortex that transmits and processes information in the main olfactory system. We review this and other work demonstrating that both vasopressin and oxytocin modulate conspecific social recognition at the level of the olfactory system. We also outline recent work on the somato-dendritic release of vasopressin and oxytocin, and propose a model by which the somato-dendritic priming of these neuropeptides in main olfactory regions may facilitate the formation of short-term social odor memories.
This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Social Behavior.