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Horm Behav. 2011 Apr;59(4):528-35. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.02.002. Epub 2011 Feb 18.

Estradiol effects on behavior and serum oxytocin are modified by social status and polymorphisms in the serotonin transporter gene in female rhesus monkeys.

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Division of Developmental & Cognitive Neuroscience, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Despite the well-documented relation between estradiol (E2) and behavior, exposure to stressors may modify sensitivity to E2. The effects of E2 on behavior are, in part, likely related to their modulation of the serotonin (5HT) and oxytocin systems. The short allele (s-variant) polymorphism found in the promoter region of the SLC6A4 gene that encodes the 5HT transporter (5HTT) modulates responsivity to stressors. The current study used ovariectomized adult female rhesus monkeys to evaluate how exposure to the psychosocial stressor of social subordination and polymorphisms in the gene encoding 5HTT influence the behavioral effects of E2 and immunoreactive serum oxytocin. Dominant females had higher levels of oxytocin than subordinate animals even though E2 increased immunoreactive serum oxytocin in all females. E2 increased affiliative behaviors in all animals, with even more of these prosocial behaviors directed at dominant females. S-variant females, regardless of social status, were more aggressive toward more subordinate cage mates and these behaviors too were increased by E2. Subordinate s-variant females are most often involved in agonistic behavior, less affiliative behavior, and were less responsive to the anxiolytic action of E2. The results show that the short allele of the 5HTT gene synergizes with psychosocial stress exposure to affect the behavioral efficacy of E2 while confirming the actions of E2 for producing generalized behavioral arousal in females. Whether differences in the central action of 5HT and/or oxytocin are responsible for this effect requires further study.

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