Neuropeptides in the arginine vasotocin/arginine vasopressin (AVT/AVP) family play a major role in the regulation of social behavior by their actions in the brain. In mammals, AVP is found within a circuit of recriprocally connected limbic structures that form the social behavior neural network. This review examines the role played by AVP within this network in controlling social processes that are critical for the formation and maintenance of social relationships: social recognition, social communication and aggression. Studies in a number of mammalian species indicate that AVP and AVP V1a receptors are ideally suited to regulate the expression of social processes because of their plasticity in response to factors that influence social behavior. The pattern of AVP innervation and V1a receptors across the social behavior neural network may determine the potential range and intensity of social responses that individuals display in different social situations. Although fundamental information on how social behavior is wired in the brain is still lacking, it is clear that different social behaviors can be influenced by the actions of AVP in the same region of the network and that AVP can act within multiple regions of this network to regulate the expression of individual social behaviors. The existing data suggest that AVP can influence social behavior by modulating the interpretation of sensory information, by influencing decision making and by triggering complex motor outputs.
This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Social Behavior.