Oxytocin and the Neurobiology of Love

C. Sue Carter, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago

Behavior, emotional responses and brain chemistry are affected by social interactions. Centrally-active and sexually-dimorphic neuropeptides, including oxytocin (OT), the related peptide arginine vasopressin (AVP), as well as corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) have been implicated in both the causes and consequences of social experiences. This presentation will focus on the neuroendocrine, behavioral and autonomic functions of these neuropeptides, using primarily data from the socially monogamous prairie vole. We have found that the presence or absence of a social partner or brief exposure to an infant can alter the central synthesis of OT, AVP and CRF, as well as neurogenesis. During early life even small hormonal or social manipulations can produce long-lasting changes in behavior, the production of OT and AVP and the expression of their receptors. For example, neonatal exposure to OT is associated later in life with dose-dependent changes in social behavior. Neonatal OT exposure, at levels that increased later social behavior, also increased immunoreactive OT and had sexually-dimorphic effects on the expression of AVP (V1a) receptors. These findings may have particular implications for understanding the development of emotional and social reactivity, including atypical behavioral responses such as those seen in autism. Supported by NIH HD 48390, MH 080022, MH 072935, MH 06744 and NAAR.

The 2007 Conference