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J Neurosci. 2005 Dec 14;25(50):11637-44.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows oxytocin activates brain regions associated with mother-pup bonding during suckling.

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Department of Psychiatry, Center for Comparative NeuroImaging, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts 01655, USA.


Oxytocin is released in the maternal brain during breastfeeding and may help strengthen the mother-infant relationship. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to determine whether oxytocin modulates brain activity in postpartum day 4-8 dams receiving suckling stimulation. During imaging sessions, dams were exposed to pup suckling before and after administration of an oxytocin receptor antagonist. Another group of dams received oxytocin alone. Changes in brain activation in response to suckling closely matched that elicited by oxytocin administration. The overlapping brain areas included the olfactory system, nucleus accumbens, insular cortex, prefrontal cortex, ventral tegmental area, cortical amygdala, and several cortical and hypothalamic nuclei. Blockade of oxytocin receptors largely attenuated activation in these regions. The data suggest that oxytocin may strengthen mother-infant bond formation partly by acting through brain areas involved in regulating olfactory discrimination, emotions, and reward.

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