The Role of Vasopressin in the Genetic and Neural Regulation of Monogamy

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Arginine vasopressin modulates pairbond formation in the monogamous prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster). Our laboratory has investigated the genetic and neural mechanisms by which vasopressin and its V1a receptor (V1aR) regulate social attachment between mates. Non-monogamous vole species show strikingly different distribution patterns of brain V1aR expression compared to monogamous species, and these patterns are thought to arise from species differences in the respective promoter sequences of the V1aR gene. Individual differences in prairie vole V1aR patterns may also reflect individual differences in promoter sequences. Pharmacological and genetic manipulation of the specific brain regions that express V1aR in the ‘monogamous pattern’ allows multilevel examination of the neural circuits that underlie pairbond formation in monogamous species. For example, V1aR are expressed in brain regions involved in reward circuitry in monogamous vole species and have been implicated in pairbonding. V1aR are also highly expressed in regions implicated in the olfactory processing of sociosexual behaviour. We hypothesize that both circuits of reward and olfactory memory underlie the cognitive mechanisms that control pairbonding. When used in conjuction, genetic and cellular analyses of a complex social behaviour can provide a coherent framework with which to examine the role of the vasopressin system in species evolution and neural control of behaviour.

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