Brain Oxytocin: A Key Regulator of Emotional and Social Behaviours in Both Females and Males

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Abstract

In addition to various reproductive stimuli, the neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) is released both from the neurohypophysial terminal into the blood stream and within distinct brain regions in response to stressful or social stimuli. Brain OXT receptor-mediated actions were shown to be significantly involved in the regulation of a variety of behaviours. Here, complementary methodological approaches are discussed which were utilised to reveal, for example, anxiolytic and anti-stress effects of OXT, both in females and in males, effects that were localised within the central amygdala and the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus. Also, in male rats, activation of the brain OXT system is essential for the regulation of sexual behaviour, and increased OXT system activity during mating is directly linked to an attenuated anxiety-related behaviour. Moreover, in late pregnancy and during lactation, central OXT is involved in the establishment and fine-tuned maintenance of maternal care and maternal aggression. In monogamous prairie voles, brain OXT is important for mating-induced pair bonding, especially in females. Another example of behavioural actions of intracerebral OXT is the promotion of social memory processes and recognition of con-specifics, as revealed in rats, mice, sheep and voles. Experimental evidence suggests that, in humans, brain OXT exerts similar behavioural effects. Thus, the brain OXT system seems to be a potential target for the development of therapeutics to treat anxiety- and depression-related diseases or abnormal social behaviours including autism.

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