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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 Oct;36(11):2200-10. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.117. Epub 2011 Jul 6.

Activation of μ-opioid receptors in the dorsal striatum is necessary for adult social attachment in monogamous prairie voles.

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Division of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatric Disorders, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.


Despite significant evidence that opioids are involved in attachment by mediating social reward and motivation, the role of opioids in the formation of adult social attachments has not been explored. We used the socially monogamous prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) to explore the role of endogenous opioids in social bonding by examining partner preference formation in female prairie voles. We hypothesized that μ-opioid receptors (MORs) in the striatum have a critical role in partner preference formation. We therefore predicted that peripheral administration of an opioid receptor antagonist would inhibit partner preference formation, and more specifically, that μ-opioid selective receptor blockade within the striatum would inhibit partner preference formation. To test our hypotheses, we first administered the non-selective opioid antagonist naltrexone peripherally to females during an 18-h cohabitation with a male and later tested the female with a partner preference test (PPT). Females showed a dose schedule-dependent decrease in partner preference in the PPT, with females in the continuous dose group displaying stranger preferences. Next, we administered microinjections of the MOR selective antagonist D-Phe-Cys-Tyr-D-Trp-Arg-Thr-Pen-Thr-NH2 (CTAP) into either the nucleus accumbens shell (NAS) or the caudate-putamen (CP) immediately before a 24-h cohabitation with a male, and later tested the female with a PPT. Females receiving CTAP into the CP, but not the NAS, showed no preference in the PPT, indicating an inhibition of partner preference formation. We show here for the first time that MORs modulate partner preference formation in female prairie voles by acting in the CP.

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