Despite its well-described role in female affiliation, the influence of oxytocin on male pairbonding is largely unknown. However, recent human studies indicate that this nonapeptide has a potent influence on male behaviors commonly associated with monogamy. Here we investigated the distribution of oxytocin receptors (OTR) throughout the forebrain of the socially monogamous male prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster). Because males vary in both sexual and spatial fidelity, we explored the extent to which OTR predicted monogamous or non-monogamous patterns of space use, mating success and sexual fidelity in free-living males. We found that monogamous males expressed higher OTR density in the nucleus accumbens than non-monogamous males, a result that mirrors species differences in voles with different mating systems. OTR density in the posterior portion of the insula predicted mating success. Finally, OTR in the hippocampus and septohippocampal nucleus, which are nuclei associated with spatial memory, predicted patterns of space use and reproductive success within mating tactics. Our data highlight the importance of oxytocin receptor in neural structures associated with pairbonding and socio-spatial memory in male mating tactics. The role of memory in mating systems is often neglected, despite the fact that mating tactics impose an inherently spatial challenge for animals. Identifying mechanisms responsible for relating information about the social world with mechanisms mediating pairbonding and mating tactics is crucial to fully appreciate the suite of factors driving mating systems.
This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Social Behavior.