Involvement of nigral oxytocin in locomotor activity: A behavioral, immunohistochemical and lesion study in male rats

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Oxytocin is involved in the control of different behaviors, from sexual behavior and food consumption to empathy, social and affective behaviors. An imbalance of central oxytocinergic neurotransmission has been also associated with different mental pathologies, from depression, anxiety and anorexia/bulimia to schizophrenia, autism and drug dependence. This study shows that oxytocin may also play a role in the control of locomotor activity. Accordingly, intraperitoneal oxytocin (0.5–2000 μg/kg) reduced locomotor activity of adult male rats. This effect was abolished by d(CH2)5Tyr(Me)2-Orn8-vasotocin, an oxytocin receptor antagonist, given into the lateral ventricles at the dose of 2 μg/rat, which was ineffective on locomotor activity. Oxytocin (50–200 ng/site) also reduced and d(CH2)5Tyr(Me)2-Orn8-vasotocin (2 μg/site) increased locomotor activity when injected bilaterally into the substantia nigra, a key area in the control of locomotor activity. Conversely, the destruction of nigral neurons bearing oxytocin receptors by the recently characterized neurotoxin oxytocin-saporin injected into the substantia nigra, increased basal locomotor activity. Since oxytocin-saporin injected into the substantia nigra caused a marked reduction of neurons immunoreactive for tyrosine hydroxylase (e.g., nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons) and for vesicular glutamate transporters VGluT1, VGluT2 and VGluT3 (e.g., glutamatergic neurons), but not for glutamic acid decarboxylase (e.g., GABAergic neurons), together these findings suggest that oxytocin influences locomotor activity by acting on receptors localized presynaptically in nigral glutamatergic nerve terminals (which control the activity of nigral GABAergic efferent neurons projecting to brain stem nuclei controlling locomotor activity), rather than on receptors localized in the cell bodies/dendrites of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons.

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